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Pell Grant Access is Access for Incarcerated People

Posted by Sara Cooper | Jul 31, 2023 | 0 Comments

The 2023-2024 academic year is coming upon us, and you will probably see soaring sales on electronics, testing supplies, and discounts on personal goods such as a suitcase or pillows. College is not just about the grades, it gives the opportunity of a lifetime.

Finally, the federal government lifted the ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated people, marking a legislative achievement almost 30 years in the making.

With over 2 million people in prison nationwide, people in prison will be eligible to receive Pell Grants under the Second Chance Pell Program with up to $7,000 per year.

The Obama Administration had started this program with 17,000 people receiving federal aid in its first three years, and yes, even the Trump Administration had continued it while even expanding its budget.

The success of the Vera Institute of Justice's own Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education initiative helped inspire the U.S. Department of Education's Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative (Second Chance Pell), a prelude to the complete reinstatement. Over the Second Chance Pell program's first six years, more than 40,000 students enrolled in postsecondary education at 200 participating colleges. Most of these programs have long waitlists, demonstrating the appetite for education among the more than 760,000 incarcerated people who are set to become eligible when the ban is lifted. (The Boston Globe)

Returning to the classroom, there has been studies that have been proven that the odds of recidivism are reduced to 48 percent, with financial investment for prison-based education accumulates $4 to $5 in taxpayer savings due to lessened incarceration costs.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) still lacks horribly of being great support for expanding college in prison, with the movement necessary for so many Americans. Currently, there are only 12 of the bureau's 122 facilities providing access to the Second Chance Pell, and only 14 colleges that are offering higher education programs to imprisoned students.

According to The Boston Globe, “The Biden administration's Beyond the Box guidance offers excellent recommendations, like refraining from collecting criminal legal information in admissions, accommodating parole and probation requirements, and proactively offering support for securing housing (including on-campus), food, employment, mental health services and financial aid.”

In Claremont, CA, Pitzer College had launched the country's first Inside-Out Bachelor's Degree Program for incarcerated folks. They being studying courses while behind bars, reduce their sentences while enrolled, and then reentry occurs including being in the physical space on-campus to finish their degree progress.

To listen to Kenny Butler's story, a scholar recipient and enrolled student under Pitzer's program, click here for NPR's article: People In Prison Will Soon Be Eligible For Pell Grants : Consider This from NPR : NPR

Other states have been implementing their own accommodations for incarcerated students. In Colorado, those in prison who are obtaining a degree program can reduce their sentences. Along with New Jersey and Michigan, Oklahoma has been highly considering a law to allow people whom are incarcerated to receive state financial aid that are not Pell Grants. Collaboration from Tennessee, Colorado, and Georgia, there are just some of the states with consortia made up of colleges, formerly incarcerated people, corrections departments, and reentry organizations working together to support incarcerated people as they enroll in college, complete their degrees on-campus, and secure jobs according to The Boston Globe.

There is hope for more programs to be established and broadened for imprisoned individuals who are wanting to get back on their feet in the classroom, with already reentry groups at colleges and universities that offer academic and emotional support for those formerly incarcerated such as Project Rebound in both the CSU and UC systems.

Education should be a possibility to all, and all should have the opportunity to learn the value of their OWN education.

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