Renewing Communities in California: a transformative approach to reentry

Today, California officials announced the launch of a new public-private partnership, Renewing Communities. This groundbreaking program brings together foundations and public sector organizations from across the fields of education, criminal justice, and social justice to support higher education institutions in their efforts to provide opportunities to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students. By transforming these Californians into college students and graduates, the partnership aims to improve public health and safety, build economic and social mobility, and strengthen communities.

The partnership is supported by the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Rosenberg Foundation, the Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation, and The California Endowment. The participating foundations have contributed varying amounts thus far, all building toward a goal of $15 million over three years.

Renewing Communities has received high-level public and government support. The California governor’s 2015-16 budget directs the chancellor of the California Community College to assist community college districts in setting aside at least $5 million to support the initiative’s goals. The governor’s budget also allocates $12 million for training, curriculum development, and teaching support, as well as for the development of an online clearinghouse in the community college system to advance statewide priorities—explicitly including the development of educational programs for currently and formerly incarcerated Californians.

“California is developing creative, bold, and smart ways to increase public safety and grow California's economy by equipping the incarcerated and formally incarcerated with tools to succeed,” said California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. “I’m thrilled to partner on innovative recidivism reduction programs with the state’s higher education leaders and the Renewing Communities foundations.”

Brice W. Harris, the chancellor of the California Community Colleges, said, “Our state’s 113 community colleges are prepared to serve all students, including incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students. We have the experience and ability to educate these new students, and we are ready to help cement the links between the criminal justice system and the community that Renewing Communities envisions.”

“This initiative comes at the perfect time. Community colleges are being recognized as important partners in creating a culture of rehabilitation in our prisons that will lead to less recidivism and safer communities,” said State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), author of a 2014 bill that eliminated a key legal barrier to educational partnerships between community colleges and prisons. “Fully integrating community colleges into our correctional facilities will improve outcomes in our criminal justice and reentry systems across the state.”

The Ford Foundation jumpstarted the initiative by investing in 18 months of strategic planning and research by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center and the Warren Institute at Berkeley Law. The foundation’s president, Darren Walker, explained why: “For far too long, foundations have stayed in our own silos of defined areas of work, but to forge meaningful change we need to recognize the interconnectedness of the issues we work on and find ways to work together,” he said. “Renewing Communities bridges the work being done across sectors to put people at the center.”

The initiative’s timing is critical. “Recent policy changes in both higher education and criminal justice make it more likely that we can build effective onramps from our prisons and jails to our public colleges throughout the state,” said Rebecca Silbert, senior vice president at The Opportunity Institute and executive director of the Warren Institute.

“We did not go into this with preconceived notions about the right approach, especially in a state as large as California,” explained Debbie Mukamal, executive director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “We studied prior initiatives, learned from the research, and talked to stakeholders, including formerly incarcerated students. The result is an initiative that we believe has all the elements of success.”

Renewing Communities will support higher education institutions providing college opportunities to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students on college campuses. Pilot programs will be selected through a competitive RFP process released on November 9, and programs will start serving students by fall 2016. Applicants will be required to demonstrate that they have partnerships with and/or other links to criminal justice stakeholders at the local level. To build in long-term sustainability, they must also provide at least 25 percent matching public funds. Simultaneously, the initiative will support an expansive campaign to build knowledge and long-term capacity statewide.

The initiative will be led by The Opportunity Institute, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Berkeley with national and state expertise in both criminal justice and higher education, in partnership with the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

The RFP is available at The Opportunity Institute website at: www.theopportunityinstitute.org.

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The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.