Robert Tafoya retires after 18 years on the bench as a judge

Charr Davenport, Reporter

Former judge Robert Tafoya retired on Friday, Feb. 5 after serving 18 years on the bench, 11 of those years being spent at the Kern County Superior Court Delano courthouse. Tafoya was appointed to the bench by the California governor at the time, Gray Davis, in 2002. Prior to becoming a judge, Tafoya worked as a lawyer and Family Law Specialist. 

Tafoya was a heavy influence in the creation of Bakersfield College’s Inmate Scholars Program. “When Governor Brown signed the law that allowed community colleges to hold face-to-face courses inside the prisons, Judge Tafoya was the first person to connect people around the state to launch a program at Kern Valley State Prison through BC,” said Bakersfield College’s President, Sonya Christian. 

The law Christian refers to is California Senate Bill 1391, Chapter 695. “SB 1391 allows California Community Colleges to receive full funding for course instruction offered on-site in state prisons and will expand the courses offered to inmates,” according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Former California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill in Sep. 2014. 

Bakersfield College’s Inmate Scholars Program began in 2015 at the Kern Valley State Prison. According to a blog post made by Christian, the program’s pilot course was Public Speaking, and 27 students were enrolled. The program’s first graduating class was in 2019 and had 17 students. According to the program’s own page on the Bakersfield College website, over 2,400 students enrolled within the first two years of the program. The program has also extended beyond Kern Valley State Prison, now working with prisoners from North Kern State Prison, Wasco State Prison, and California State Prison, Cocoran, as well as working with the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility. 

“In our early talks with state leaders and prison administration, it seemed pretty clear that Judge Tafoya saw the value in this program being launched,” said Bakersfield College communications professor Bryan Hirayama. Hirayama was the first Bakersfield College faculty member to teach at Kern Valley State Prison. Though Hirayama had little interaction with Tafoya, Tafoya played an important role in preparing Hirayama for his first and future classes. “In my limited interaction with Judge Tafoya, it felt like his support would not only be a verbal commitment but something he would stand behind as BC looked to the future of higher education inside the prisons. One of the things that I will always remember is how well-informed and read Judge Tafoya was on the perspective of incarcerated people. He put together a reading list for me and shared it via email. Those books were instrumental in helping me better understand the students I would come to know, respect, and love as an instructor in this program.” 

According to an article from the Bakersfield Californian written by Jose Gaspar, Tafoya’s future plans include helping men be better to their families. “I want to work with men so they can become better husbands and better fathers,” he told Gaspar in the same article.