Norco College Offers Degrees to Prisoners

By Anthony Saude

Norco – There are seven rows of desk that seat 23 Norco College students, all men all dressed with the same blue shirts and pants. Does college have a uniform these days? No the shirts the men wear all have “CDCR prisoner” printed on them. Each one of these college students are actually inmates at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, a medium security prison on the grounds of the former Lake Norconian Resort.

Norco College formed an alliance with the prison in February of 2016 to make college degrees for these men available. The core mission of the College in Norco has always been to educate the historically under-served populations. The college is just continuing to follow their core mission statement with the prison for no other reason other than it is right in their own backyard.

One student Robert Beebe, 41, dropped out of his Norwalk high school in the ninth grade. He got involved in gangs at a young age and served two, two-year terms in prison in the 90’s. Ultimately he was arrested for attempted murder and he is now in his 19th year of a 20 year sentence.

Beebe, got his GED while in solitary confinement and has been moving in a positive direction ever since. Beebe got out of the gangs, changed his whole mindset and will be living somewhere different when he is released. He has already earned an associate’s degree in theological studies while in prison. He plans to earn his associate’s degree in business by the spring of 2018. That will take 6 months off of his sentence.

The warden shows his support to the men and their efforts by having a graduation ceremony twice a year for GED and vocations. He works in the prison’s plumbing department. He would use his degree and experience to start a business installing ornamental koi ponds and waterfalls.

A lot of these men just made some bad choices but have been committed to turning their life around since the day they were convicted. This type of program shows them that people do care and there is hope and love out there for them.

Norco College’s original plan was to start offering classes in the fall of 2018 that just wasn’t fast enough for the official’s at the prison. The wanted it to happen immediately so the college made it happen.

Prisoners who take part in an educational program are 43 percent less likely to return to prison says a 2013 RAND Corporation report.  They’re 13 percent more likely to get a job. The report also says that for every $1 invested in prison education save the taxpayers $4 to $5 after prisoners are released.

105 students enrolled this fall, all of them with 10 years or less left on their sentences. Giving prisoners vocational skills gives them hope and options other than committing crimes.

The college hasn’t had any trouble with finding faculty members to take part in the program. They are knocking down the administration’s doors asking them to pick their major. They don’t focus on the crimes committed only on helping them make a new life for themselves. They understand that there is a danger there but that what they are dealing with are human beings that made a bad choice or choices in their lives.