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Transforming Outcomes Project at Sacramento State

Transforming Outcomes Project at Sacramento State (TOPSS)

is a four-year degree completion program administered and delivered inside two California state prisons through a partnership of California State University, Sacramento and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. TOPSS is a program of Sacramento State’s Division of Academic Affairs under the auspices of the Dean of Undergraduate Studies.

TOPSS provides a robust educational experience that advances student success. The program is grounded in the values of access, integrity, positive self-awareness and humanitarianism.

People incarcerated at Folsom State Prison and at Mule Creek State Prison apply to TOPSS after completing the CSU transfer requirements through community college. Applicants also must qualify for Federal financial aid by completing the FAFSA application process.

Once admitted, they are official Sacramento State students and take four courses a semester. Classes are taught by Sacramento State faculty live inside and are simulcast live to the other prison. In this way, the classroom is both in-person and virtual, and is are made up of students in both prisons.

TOPSS students are earning their BA degree in Communication Studies. TOPSS also offers the remainder of the courses the students need in order to complete their BA degrees. The typical time to degree for TOPSS students is a little more than two years.

Students who parole or release from incarceration transition onto the Sacramento State campus, or on to another CSU, where they are assisted in their transition by Project Rebound at Sacramento State.

Benefits of Higher Education for Incarcerated People

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office reports that it costs

Californians $81,203 a year to incarcerate an adult. Since 2010, that cost has increased by about 58%. A study by the UCLA Department of Policy (Bazos & Hausman, 2004) found that prison education reduces crime by nearly half when compared with the same expenditure of funds for incarceration.

Simply put: education lowers recidivism. According to Christopher Zoukis (2016), the benefit to society increases with the amount of education an incarcerated person completes:

High school courses: recidivism rates drop to 54.6%.

An associate's degree: 13.7%.

Completion of a bachelor's degree: 5.6%.

“And for prisoners who attain a master's degree: 0 percent recidivism. Zero!” (Zoukis, p. 13).

While recidivism is an important benefit of TOPSS, it is not the only concern. The TOPSS program has a positive impact on the incarcerated students and can improve the social climate within the prisons. As McCorkel and DeFina (2019) explain, “higher education in prison enhances self-knowledge and empathy, bolsters social capital and collective efficacy, and facilitates the development of just and democratic communities both inside and outside prison walls.” TOPSS benefits the student and the prison, even prior to the student’s release.

For more information, contact:

Will Mechling, MSW


Keeley Ciccarelli

Student Support Coordinator

Transforming Outcomes Project at Sacramento State

Sequoia Hall 311 MS 6054

6000 J Street

Sacramento, CA 95819-6054

(916) 278-3643

Zoukis, C. (2016). College for convicts. McFarland.