Helping Students from Juvenile Hall to College

Educators, juvenile justice professionals and community organizations will gather on January 26 in Sacramento to share ways of helping incarcerated youth access higher education

SAN MATEO, Calif., Jan. 18, 2018 – Elisabeth Ocampo wanted to give up on college. The young mother of two was involved with gangs since childhood, locked up at 13, and unable to finish high school. She managed to enroll in community college while still holding down a full-time job, but it was a struggle.

At the College of San Mateo, Elisabeth heard about Project Change — a program that helps students who have been through the juvenile justice system get through college. Project Change connected her with a community of formerly incarcerated students, helping with study skills, tutoring and books. With a support network for the first time in her life, Elisabeth has become a successful student leader and will be transferring to a four-year university next fall.

Elisabeth will share her story with educators, juvenile justice professionals and community leaders at a January 26 conference in Sacramento.

Creating Pathways from Youth Incarceration to Higher Education is a statewide conference to increase post-secondary education opportunities in California for young people impacted by the juvenile justice system. Organizers hope to support the implementation of higher education programs throughout California by sharing knowledge and experience about effective practices and by addressing barriers to program success and sustainability.

“Once a student is incarcerated, it can be difficult to continue with school, graduate, and be successful in a college classroom,” says Katie Bliss, founder of Project Change at the College of San Mateo. “We are developing supports to help these students get out of the system, into college, and on to a successful career.”

Project Change offers college-prep workshops and college-level courses in the San Mateo County Juvenile Hall. Students earn CSU and UC-transferable college credits while still incarcerated. The program also serves as a pipeline for students to enter College of San Mateo, providing financial and academic support for students like Elisabeth. It currently serves about 110 students at Juvenile Hall and CSM.

Project Change and other programs from across California will share their successes and challenges with 200 attendees at the Creating Pathways conference. Conference highlights include welcome addresses by California Division of Juvenile Justice Director Charles Supple and San Mateo County Community Colleges Chancellor Ron Galatolo; a panel of college students who have had involvement with the juvenile justice system; and a panel of agency leaders who have created and implemented strong higher education pathways for young people in the juvenile justice system.

Conference sessions run from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018 at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel, 1230 J Street, Sacramento, Calif. For media access or questions please contact Richard Rojo at or (209) 401-9939.

The conference is co-hosted by the Youth Law Center and San Mateo County Community College District, Project Change. It is funded in part by a grant from the California Wellness Foundation, the College of San Mateo, and community donations through the San Mateo County Community College District Foundation

Conference Participants

  • California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office
  • California Department of Juvenile Justice
  • Youth Law Center
  • San Mateo County Community College District
  • College of San Mateo, Project Change
  • The Opportunity Institute
  • UC Berkeley Underground Scholars
  • National Center for Youth Law
  • Guardian Scholars
  • Los Angeles County Probation
  • Los Angeles Mission College
  • El Dorado County Probation
  • Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Conference Co-chairs:

  • Lucy Salcido Carter – Policy Advocate, Youth Law Center
  • Katie Bliss – Program Founder, Project Change, Associate Professor, College of San Mateo

About Project Change
Project Change is the first community college program in California to offer a pathway to college for youth in the justice system. The program serves more than 100 currently or formerly incarcerated youth.