Renewing Communities   

Renewing Communities is a five-year initiative designed to build a network of bridges from corrections to college in California. Despite the fact that higher education reduces recidivism and builds social mobility, criminal justice and higher education in the state have long operated in silos, limiting opportunities for incarcerated students and leaving formerly incarcerated students without the resources and support they often need to succeed. Renewing Communities aims to build on-ramps back onto the path to credential and career by opening high-quality college opportunities for thousands of these potential students. The initiative is a joint project with the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

Renewing Communities relies on a two-pronged strategy: using a blend of public and private funding to foster innovation and increase the number of students served at the local level, and achieving statewide sustainable systems change through coordinated capacity building, technical assistance, and the pursuit of a policy agenda. The ultimate goal of Renewing Communities is to lay the foundation necessary for continued expansion of high-quality opportunities for currently and formerly incarcerated college students in California, without the need for private funding. 

At the local level, Renewing Communities is distributing $6 million over three years to support innovative pilot programs working in prisons, jails, and on college campuses. Each pilot is being pushed to expand the number of students they serve, to support students through to graduation or credential, to experiment with effective program design, and to test theories of sustainability. For the first round of funding, Renewing Communities has chosen seven pilot programs: Bakersfield College, Shasta College, California State University Los Angeles, Five Keys Charter School, The Gamble Institute’s Street Scholars program, Chaffey College, and a consortium of eight California State University campuses replicating the Project Rebound program (Cal Poly Pomona, CSU Bakersfield, CSU Fullerton, CSU San Bernardino, Fresno State, Sacramento State, San Diego State, and San Francisco State). Learn more about the pilot sites here

At the state level, Renewing Communities is working both top-down and bottom-up. We are building capacity and creating a sustainable ecosystem through partnerships with colleges, faculty members, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, and others. Through our Soros Justice Fellow, we are also creating a student-led network of formerly incarcerated students on the state's college campuses. Policy hurdles and opportunities are being identified and addressed so that programs can grow and endure now and after the private investment ends. By disseminating knowledge, fostering connections, and shaping a supportive policy landscape, the statewide campaign will strengthen the links between criminal justice and higher education and facilitate scalability, sustainability, and expansion in the future.

To develop a supportive and effective ecosystem, Renewing Communities is creating resources to support the field, build quality, and encourage the development of a community of practice. Foremost among these resources is our new website,, which includes a map and directory of colleges and programs serving currently and formerly incarcerated students in California. This directory allows faculty and counselors working inside prison to connect students who are paroling with a college on the outside, thus enabling the students to continue their education when they return home. It also allows returning community members to identify an individual contact at a college near them, easing their transition to the college and increasing the likelihood that they will persist to degree or credential completion.   

Renewing Communities is supported by 13 state and national foundations and groups, including The Art for Justice Fund, The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation, The Ballmer Group, ECMC Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the Rosenberg Foundation, and the Weingart Foundation.The initiative uses human-centered design techniques and is based on 18 months of research, stakeholder input, and outreach conducted by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center and the Warren Institute at Berkeley Law, memorialized in Degrees of Freedom: Expanding College Opportunities for Currently and Formerly Incarcerated Californians (2015). The Vera Institute for Justice in New York is conducting an evaluation of the Renewing Communities pilot sites. 

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