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    Second Chances


    By Alex Randolph, City College Trustee

    The other day a friend of mine wanted to get dinner at one of those new restaurants popping up all over town. I quickly said, “No thanks! I already tried them. The service was terrible and the food is way too expensive!” He didn’t relent, asking me to give the place a second chance. Normally I wouldn’t have batted an eye, but in that moment his response really bothered me. How come? His point seemed reasonable enough, right?

    Well, earlier that week I was lucky to join several fellow City College Trustees, our Chancellor, and members of the School Board on a tour of the Five Keys Charter School program at the San Francisco Sherriff Department’s San Bruno Jail. This innovation, founded by the incredible criminal justice reform advocate Sunny Schwartz back in 2003, is the first charter school in the nation operating inside of a county jail. In addition to the work with the School District, City College is partnering to provide college-level education and pathways to the inmates.

    Under this program, inmates enroll in classes with CCSF faculty while still in jail. The program also allows them to continue their higher education once released. Contrary to the norm in our criminal justice system, San Francisco is blazing a trail in restorative justice, fostering a more positive future for many of these inmates. While it is very easy for us to give friends, family members, and even restaurants second chances to make up for their mistakes, which is not always the case when it comes to those who are incarcerated for theirs.

    I’m a big believer in rehabilitation. Once an individual has served their time, they deserve a chance to reenter society. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system in our country is not designed to help the formerly incarcerated reenter society without facing incredible hurdles. Although San Francisco does better than other jurisdictions, there are still some tremendous disparities in our jails. According to a report published by the Controller’s Office in 2015, the daily population in our jails is around 1,285. Here are some key facts:

    • African Americans are incarcerated disproportionally, making up around 60% of all inmates, while amounting to only 6% of the city population.
    • Likewise, young adults also make up a larger group; 59% of inmates are between 18–39 years old while being about 37% of all San Francisco residents.
    • More alarmingly, only 19% were offered any support services once they were released. Not surprising then, the recidivism rate is consequently high at 78% in San Francisco. When enrolled in Five Keys, it drops to 44%!

    Numerous studies have shown that recidivism falls proportionally to the amount of education received. That is why programs like Five Keys are so important to not only unlock the potential of many of these inmates but also to provide them with a positive path forward. These inmates deserve a second chance. There is still a lot of work to do. However, we can be proud of the ground we are breaking here in San Francisco.

    To find out more about Five Keys Charter School and to support their work, visit:

    Alex Randolph is a Trustee for City College of San Francisco. He previously served in President Obama’s administration and as an LGBT advisor for Mayor Newsom. He lives in the Castro with his partner Trevor. Follow him on social media: &