Educators, juvenile justice professionals and community organizations gathered on January 26 in Sacramento to at the Creating Pathways from Youth Incarceration to Higher Education Conference.

The statewide conference was convened 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.”

Elisabeth Ocampo is one CSM student who sought assistance and took advantage of Project Change. After having been incarcerated as a youth, she managed to enroll in community college while still holding down a full-time job. Once she was at CSM, 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 shared her story, along with other California college and university students, with educators, juvenile justice professionals and community leaders at the conference.

Conference highlights included 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 Participants

  • California Community College 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

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.