First, we need to lift the ban on access to Pell Grants for incarcerated individuals. This approach
provides motivated individuals an opportunity to turn their lives around. When the Pell Grant program began, all qualifying students including the incarcerated were eligible to receive small amounts of federal funding to help pay for college tuition.
Beginning with the enactment of the 1994 crime bill, incarcerated individuals were excluded
from receiving federal funds. As a result, nearly 350 in-prison college programs
across the country disintegrated.
In 2015, the Second Chance Pell pilot program was announced, which has already helped 12,000 incarcerated individuals
receive grants to access higher education in state and federal facilities across the country. We should expand this pilot program, or make it permanent
Second, we should expand access
to all federal student loan programs for incarcerated juveniles and adults. Some believe this approach makes fiscal sense and will help make our streets safer and economy more prosperous. For example, a study
from the RAND Corp. showed that a $1 investment in education yields $4 to $5 in public safety cost-savings. It also found
that individuals who received education while behind bars were 43% less likely to end up back in prison and 13% more likely to obtain employment following their release.
Third, we must ensure that individuals convicted of drug-related crimes are not barred from financial aid or federal student loans if they choose to pursue a college degree. It is counterproductive to lock individuals out of opportunity for higher learning after they have paid their debt to society, especially when there has been a growing, bipartisan
movement to ensure that individuals convicted of drug crimes receive access to treatment and rehabilitation, moving them toward a path to success. It is past time.
These recommendations are highlighted in a new campaign by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, #CollegeNotPrison
. They have also been endorsed by #cut50
, the national bipartisan criminal justice reform organization founded by Van.
of people behind bars today will eventually return back to their communities. Our challenge is to ensure they return with skills that make them less likely to commit future crimes. If we successfully provide access to affordable, high-quality education options for justice-involved individuals, we will be able to better address incarceration that bars too many Americans from opportunity through higher education.
We need to stop wasting genius in America and start opening doors to opportunity.