President Barack Obama is helping prisoners pay for college via a $30 million Second Chance Pell Grant Pilot program. Under the programs, prisoners who are within five years of a release date can will be eligible for a $5,815 yearly Pell grant. It can be used to pursue a two- or four-year degree. There are now 141 state and federal correctional facilities participating and 67 colleges and universities.
In 1994, a crime bill was enacted by Congress that prohibited prisoners from receiving Pell grants. At the time, 0.6 percent of Pell grants were being used by inmates.
“No basic grant shall be awarded under this subpart to any individual who is incarcerated in any Federal or State penal institution.”
There is, however, a provision in the law that allows the Department of Education to initiate pilot programs. The congressional ban remains in place, but the Obama administration is using its authority to help prisoners pay for college through the program, which is a limited experiment, per The Root.
— Steve Piper (@St3v3Piper) June 25, 2016
When Congress initiated the ban against incarcerated men and women from obtaining Pell grants, legislators argued that it wasn’t fair for prisoners to be given a percentage of financial aid resources. On the other hand, supporters said educating prisoners reduces the recidivism rate. The prisoner Pell grant program is not the only experimental program the Obama administration is engaged in. There is now a program where high school students are given Pell grants to enroll in college courses and people who are taking computer coding courses, per the Washington Post.
The current Education Secretary, John B. King, Jr., weighed in on the benefits of the Pell Grant program. In August of 2015, the announcement of the launch of the program was made when Arne Duncan was Education Secretary.
“We all agree that crime must have consequences, but the men and women who have done their time and paid their debt deserve the opportunity to break with the past and forge new lives in their homes, workplaces ad communities. This belief in second chances is fundamental to who we are as Americans.”
Experts thoughts on the White House plan to give Pell Grants to some prisoners: “It’s a symbolic and strategic move.” http://t.co/ttx7EyB7N2
— Marcia Kramer (@planthepathed) August 6, 2015
King referred to the 1991 ban as a mistake that Congress made.
“We have called for Congress to reverse the mistake that was made in the mid ’90s. That ban remains in place until Congress acts. We are using our experimentation authority under the Higher Education Act.”
One of the leaders spearheading the reversal of the congressional ban is Dallas Pell of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition. It was her father, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) who authored the Pell grant program, noted USA Today.
“We already know from statistics that access to education while in prison is hugely beneficial for the individual and the community.”
Glenn E. Martin, of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), spoke of the benefits of obtaining a college degree while in prison, The Root also reported.
“As someone who went to college in prison and earned a quality two-year Liberal Arts degree, I know personally that providing incarcerated students with access to higher education reduces recidivism and the related costs of crime and imprisonment, and increases opportunities for employment after release.”
Pell grants may reduce the amount that taxpayers have to pay for maintaining prisons. Martin also stated that when prisoners are educated, it strengthens communities, and former inmates who obtain college degrees rely far less on public aid. He also explained that governments can use prison building funds for job training and education.
[Image courtesy of Peter McDiarmid/Getty]