Photos courtesy of Jennifer Leahy (right)

Redemption for Project Rebound cohort, graduating after incarceration

By MARISA MATA, Student Writer

“She very much embodies what Project Rebound is about and setting out to achieve. Students who are new to the program or are thinking of applying to Fresno State may feel overwhelmed and intimidated, and to see someone who’s achieved so much is really inspiring,” Dr. Emma Hughes, chair of the criminology department, said of Jennifer Leahy (2013, ’14).

Leahy is the newly appointed program director of Project Rebound, a program designed to help formerly incarcerated individuals navigate higher education. Project Rebound was founded by Dr. John Irwin at San Francisco State University in 1967, and was adopted by eight CSU campuses, including Fresno State, last summer.

Leahy and undergraduate assistants at Fresno State’s Health Fair

The Project Rebound team, which includes Hughes, two undergraduate students and Leahy, started having regular communication with individuals interested in being a part of Project Rebound last September and formally established a cohort in January of 2017. The cohort consists of 17 students from Fresno State as well as various community colleges. As program director, Leahy plays a big role in outreach and networking for students in the cohort.

“We’re trying to build positive relationships for our [students] both on and off campus,” Leahy said, “I’m in charge of coordinating outreach with the community…as well as helping to build [our students] into a cohort so that they have a comradery, which is essential to this particular group.”

“I’m formerly incarcerated, and when I was released into the community I realized how difficult that transition can be for individuals that want to change their trajectory. Coming from an incarcerated background and moving forward encounters a great deal of resistance, and I’ve worked hard to overcome any resistance I’ve encountered, and I’ve been successful and I’ve been supported. But I’m fortunate — my family and [life-long] friends continue to support me; most individuals don’t have that, and I think it’s essential that these individuals be encouraged and given the tools to be successful in reintegration and changing their own trajectories.”

Leahy started working as a research assistant for Barbara Owen, an international expert on female offenders and Professor Emerita of Fresno State’s Criminology Department, at Owen Research & Evaluation in 2012.

“We did some work for the Thailand Institute of Justice pertaining to the Bangkok Rules, which address the needs of women who are prisoners, and the implementation of those on an international level.”

Leahy was in the audience at the UN Crime Congress in Qatar where the princess of Thailand presented the Bangkok Rules, which were then accepted by the UN, along with data collected by Leahy and Owen.

While Leahy worked as a research assistant she also attended Fresno State, and was recognized as a dean’s medalist when she earned her master’s in 2014. She became an adjunct lecturer in the Criminology Department in 2015, and was named the Program Director of Project Rebound in December of 2016.

Members of the cohort

Project Rebound ran a Winter Intersession course in January as a way for the cohort to come together. The course took place on a Friday and Saturday, and focused on basic strategies for a successful reentry into the community. The cohort ate their meals together, listened to guest speakers and discussed their shared concerns and interests. Leahy and Hughes plan on running the course every year, between semesters.

Leahy said, “I also plan on conducting some informal trainings…a gathering for the cohort to be able to come work on social skills, job readiness, relationship building, creating conflict resolution alternatives to violence, all those kinds of things.”

Four students will be the first in the cohort to graduate this spring, and some plan to go on to graduate school.

“I relate to them on such a significant level,” Leahy said, “They’ve been where I’ve been and they’re going where I’m going. Their successes are my successes…the pride that I feel is overwhelming.”

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