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California inmates study at first college that is based behind bars

San Quentin Prison College
Posted at 4:23 PM, Apr 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-19 16:23:25-04

Behind a fortress wall and razor wire and a few feet away from California's death row, students at one of the country's most unique colleges discuss the 9/11 attacks and issues of morality, identity and nationalism.

They are students at Mount Tamalpais College at San Quentin State Prison, the first junior college in the country based behind bars. The college was accredited in January by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges after a 19-member commission determined a college program held at San Quentin for more than two decades was providing quality education to its students.

Incarcerated students listen to a discussion during a Mount Tamalpais College English class called Cosmopolitan Fictions at San Quentin State Prison on April 12, 2022, in San Quentin, Calif. The community college, the first in California with a campus inside a prison, is the latest addition to San Quentin's numerous rehabilitation programs that have made it a desired destination for inmates throughout the state. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, the umbrella organization for all U.S. higher education institutions said, “This is a profound step forward in prison education.” 

The college has a $5 million yearly budget and is funded by private donations. The staff is paid and there are also volunteers.

An incarcerated student raises his hand during a Mount Tamalpais College English class called Cosmopolitan Fictions at San Quentin State Prison April 12, 2022, in San Quentin, Calif. The community college, the first in California with a campus inside a prison, is the latest addition to San Quentin's numerous rehabilitation programs that have made it a desired destination for inmates throughout the state. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

49-year-old Derry Brown said of his English 101 class, “I wish I had learned this way coming up; instead I was in special ed my whole life.”

Incarcerated students look at the photograph "The Falling Man," that was part of a discussion during a Mount Tamalpais College English class called Cosmopolitan Fictions at San Quentin State Prison April 12, 2022, in San Quentin, Calif. The community college, the first in California with a campus inside a prison, is the latest addition to San Quentin's numerous rehabilitation programs that have made it a desired destination for inmates throughout the state. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Brown said, “There is joy in learning, that’s why I want to continue,” he said. “Even when I get out, I’m going back to college.”