Task force empowers formerly imprisoned

District implements plan for support services, programs

By Roxana Amparo, Associate Editor

Current and formerly incarcerated individuals will soon have the chance to receive educational and support services when returning or beginning an educational plan at one of the district’s three colleges.

The Current and Formerly Incarcerated Youth and Adult Task Force was approved by the Governing Board on July 22 and convened in early September. Comprised of 16 individuals from varying constituency groups, the task force is scheduled to return before the board at its Dec. 9 meeting to provide recommendations for how these services and programs will be rendered.

“The board directed that a task force be convened to study the feasibility of developing model youth and adult student support services and instructional programs,” Contra Costa Community College District Associate Vice Chancellor of Educational Services Sally Montemayor-Lenz said.

Aside from lowering statewide incarceration rates, the effort of the task force is hoped to cause social change, Interim Executive Vice Chancellor Andrew Jones said.

According to the United States Department of Justice, within California 750 of 10,000 adults were incarcerated in 2013, and 569 of 10,000 people of all ages were incarcerated the same year.

“Many of the people who have been incarcerated are poor and of color,” Jones, chairperson of the task force, said. “We are looking at ways to make systematic changes.”

Four potential models were suggested by the task force at its July 22 meeting: A restorative justice program in which individuals may fulfill a jail or prison sentence by participating in an educational program; consideration of a program that offers the incarcerated support services as they transition back into the community; an on-campus support program providing additional support from programs like EOPS, DSPS and other student programs; and consideration of a prison-centered program where courses are taught through the distance education program or college faculty teach courses in the prisons.

Already supporting the initiative are Contra Costa County schools, Cal State-East Bay, UC Berkeley and other probation and sheriff departments, Jones said.

Contra Costa College’s Instructional Support Coordinator Kenneth Reynolds works out of the EOPS Office, already helping formerly incarcerated students.

Since 2014, Reynolds has worked with over 250 formerly incarcerated students, guiding them along their educational pathways with a load they can manage.

“I pave the road,” he said, “I manage their paperwork, they talk to counselors to get to their goals and their only job is to go to class and get a grade.”

Reynolds said often times services aimed to meet students’ educational needs leave out overlooked groups, such as the incarcerated, who are in need of an opportunity to prove themselves worthy in the face of social stigma.

Jones said the district wants students to take the initiative to reach out for the services once offered districtwide and be identified as incarcerated. Reactions from students, however, are varied.

While some students are supportive, for others it is intimidating, he said.

He said the identification of incarcerated students is not to further their stigma, but to offer adequate and appropriate services to these individuals that will truly benefit their needs.

“The person sitting next to you could have been incarcerated and you wouldn’t have known it,” he said.

Reynolds said, “People don’t go up to them and put a hand on their back offering them help, but they are no different than any other person.

“If they are here it doesn’t mean they are going to get violent or cause problems. Why would they jeopardize (the opportunity)?”