Project Rebound provides formerly incarcerated students with the academic support, financial assistance and on-campus workspace needed to help them successfully navigate college life.
Now, participants in the program are preparing to give back as part a newly created mentorship program for youth in the juvenile justice system thanks to a grant totaling more than $300,000. The grant comes at a time when the Project Rebound Executive Committee also awarded an additional $260,000 in funding for Cal Poly Pomona’s Project Rebound program.
The new California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)-sponsored Division of Juvenile Justice-Project Rebound Mentorship Program will enlist a team of 12 Project Rebound students from participating CSU campuses, including Cal Poly Pomona, to visit youth correctional facilities to share their experiences and provide support for those interested in pursuing a college degree.
Political Science Professor Renford Reese, who oversees Project Rebound at Cal Poly Pomona and will serve as director of the mentorship project, said the new program will offer “a rare opportunity for the CSU campuses to collaborate in such a rich, meaningful and substantive way.”
“The CSU system is the greatest higher education system for upward mobility and transformation in the nation,” he said. “The metrics emphatically prove this point. This is what we do well–we make dreams become reality for those from disadvantaged and marginalized communities.”
The mentorship project, in conjunction with Project Rebound, is another way to transform lives through exposure to higher education, Reese added.
Two Project Rebound students from each of the six campuses involved – Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State Fullerton, Fresno State, Sacramento State, Cal State Bakersfield and San Diego State – will visit three facilities. The mentors will meet face-to-face with Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) youth once per semester, which will include panel discussions and smaller break-out sessions. The team members also will participate in two video-conference sessions.
In addition, youth discharged from DJJ facilities involved in the program will work with the Project Rebound mentorship team during their final months of custody and immediately after their release on filling out community college and CSU applications.
“The goal is to create a seamless transition process,” Reese wrote in his application for the grant. “Once the former DJJ youth become Project Rebound members, the hope is that some of them will travel to local middle school and high schools to share their life lessons and the knowledge they received from their Project Rebound mentors…in an effort to stop the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Mario Quintana, a junior psychology student and Project Rebound participant, said he looks forward to serving as a mentor.
“I am excited because I actually have training in that,” he said, adding that when he was incarcerated, he served as a mentor for the Youth Offender Program.
Quintana added that it will be easier for the mentors to connect to youth because of shared experience.
“We can relate to them,” he said. “A lot of them won’t talk to people in a suit. The kids will be more open to us.”
That sense of kinship between mentors and mentees is what Reese hopes will foster change.
“The incarcerated youth really have the capacity to be transformed through higher education,” Reese said. “The most powerful component of this program is that our team of 12 Project Rebound mentors were all once in their shoes–so they will be able to directly address their questions and concerns.
They will be proof that a person can transcend the challenges of incarceration to pursue higher education.”
John Irwin, who served a five-year sentence for armed robbery in Soledad Prison in the 1950s, created Project Rebound at San Francisco State University. After his release, the noted U.S. prison expert and professor earned a bachelor’s from UCLA and a doctorate from UC Berkeley before going on to teach sociology and criminology for 27 years.
The program expanded in 2016 into a consortium of nine CSU campus programs. Since that expansion, students system-wide have an overall grade point average of 3.0 and a zero percent recidivism rate, according to the program website. About 87 percent of Project Rebound graduates have secured full-time employment or admission to graduate school programs.
Reese, author of several books, was chosen to oversee Cal Poly Pomona’s Project Rebound because of his extensive work in his own Prison Education Project (PEP) and his Reintegration Academy program.
He also has been meeting with incarcerated juveniles for what he calls study circles at three of the division’s youth correctional facilities for several years as part of PEP. As a result of his work, he said he was approached by Troy Fennel, the DJJ’s superintendent of education, about working together on a possible mentorship program. The DJJ’s executive team, which included Fennel, DJJ Director Heather Bowlds, and Teresa Perez, associate director of the DJJ facility programs, visited Cal Poly Pomona Nov. 14 to discuss the collaboration.
For the collaboration to be the most effective, it was important to draw mentors from various CSU campuses.
“The incarcerated youth will discharge to various counties,” Reese said. “We want our Project Rebound mentorship team to be geographically varied enough to provide a hands-on transition for the youth once they are discharged.”
Reese said he is thrilled that Cal Poly Pomona is at the center of providing access to higher education for formerly incarcerated juveniles. It’s an opportunity to help the youth chart a new course, he said.
“We are doing this with Project Rebound,” he said, “and this Project Rebound-DJJ Mentorship Project will be another powerful example of our commitment to transforming the lives of this population through exposure to higher education.”