Bryan Hirayama, an assistant professor at Bakersfield Community College, made a little bit of history this year. He became one of the first community college professors to teach inside a California state prison in roughly the last 20 years.
Hirayama’s communications course at Kern Valley State Prison last spring led the way for hundreds of courses being planned by community colleges across the state as a result of Senate Bill 1391, signed into law last September.
It allows community colleges both state funding and prison access to teach inmates face-to-face. Previously all community college courses had to be open to the public – a rule that made such classes impractical. The new law waives that requirement for prisons.
Forty years ago every California state prison had professors coming in person to teach courses to inmates. But cuts to both prison education budgets and community college funding and the elimination of federal Pell Grants for inmates whittled in-person college programs down to one, a volunteer-based program at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, near San Francisco.
So for the last several decades California prisons have been forced to rely on teaching inmates in isolation, with outdated and ineffective distance delivery methods. <Read more.>