Long Beach State has officially launched Project Rebound, a program to assist formerly incarcerated students achieve their goals in higher education.
Currently incarcerated individuals who are seeking a degree in higher education after reentering society get in contact with Project Rebound by letter, and the program’s staff then provides assistance in navigating enrollment, financial aid and admissions by connecting potential and current students with other university offices.
“The belief system and the mission of Project Rebound is, as an organization, it promotes education to change folk’s lives,” said James Binnall, the project’s executive director.
Project Rebound began at San Francisco State in 1967 and expanded to eight more campuses in 2016. The nine campuses that make up the Project Rebound statewide consortium, or association, approached the state legislature for more funding in early 2020.
The consortium successfully advocated to become a state line budget item and decided to branch out to five more campuses, including CSULB.
Early last semester, Associated Students, Inc. senators also advocated for incarcerated person’s rights by showing support for the Aim Higher Act, which would allow Pell Grant funds to be made available to formerly incarcerated individuals, as well as encouraged CSULB to establish a face-to-face prisoner-education program.
A program coordinator, who has not been hired yet, and a handful of students on federal work studies will make up the organization’s staff. The team will be working on campus, when permitted, in an office space located in the Social Science and Public Affairs building.
Binnall anticipates the project will start with roughly ten members in the fall 2020 semester and hopes to have a total of 20 members, if not more, by the end of spring 2021 semester. However, one of the primary concerns for a lag in new membership is the societal stigma that can accompany identifying oneself as formerly incarcerated.
Beth Lesen, the new vice president of student affairs at CSULB, worked extensively with students in Project Rebound during her time in student affairs at Sacramento State. Lesen said she has seen the impact of Project Rebound firsthand and offered a piece of advice to students who are contemplating joining the program.
“Please identify yourself,” Lesen said. “Identify yourself to Project Rebound or just directly to me. There is no judgment here, you will get nothing but support…The sooner we know who you are, the faster we can start helping you address all of the challenges that you need to address.”
Each of the five Project Rebound expansion campuses are still considered to be in a two-year provisionary period. At the end of the two-year period, each campus will be evaluated to become a permanent host campus, based on metrics such as membership.
“In the first couple years, to grow your number [of members], that’s the goal here,” Binnall said. “Long Beach is a very strong campus, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.”
Binnall is the faculty advisor for Rising Scholars, another campus program that supports formerly incarcerated students along with system impacted students. A system impacted person is anyone who has a relative or loved one within the carceral system.
With a support base for these individuals already established, the hope for Project Rebound is to expand the community and provide more aid.
“We call ourselves a dysfunctional family,” said Irene Soleto, a founding member and current president of Rising Scholars. “We’re very supportive of each other. We know we can come to each other, talk to each other cause we all have that uniqueness that nobody else has.”
Soleto was integral to bringing Project Rebound to CSULB and plans to be heavily involved in the program. A formerly incarcerated student herself, she partners with representatives from other Project Rebound campuses in the area, such as California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and California State University, Los Angeles, to help other formerly incarcerated individuals.
“We go to Pelican Bay [State Prison] together and teach intro-to-college,” Soleto said. “We go to Homeboy Industries, we go to Anti-Recidivism Coalition. These are the places where people who get out go to and start looking to reintegrate into society. We’re the educational part.”
While physical distancing does not allow Project Rebound to maintain its traditional methods of outreach, the program will utilize online resources such as Zoom to continue outreach during the coronavirus pandemic.