Some prison inmates will receive federal college aid under the $30 million Second Chance Pell Grant program.
Under a pilot program, 12,000 inmates at 141 state and federal institutions will receive grants worth up to $5,815 to pursue a two- or four-year degree from an approved college or university, reports USA Today.
The 1994 crime bill explicitly banned giving Pell aid to prisoners. Secretary of Education John King is using “experimentation authority under the Higher Education Act” to evade the ban.
The program is focused on prisoners likely to be released — and job hunting — within five years, reports Inside Higher Ed. “Most of the colleges chosen will offer classes in person at the correctional facilities, while some will offer online classes.” In addition, many “plan to offer a range of support services and tailor their instruction to local labor markets.”
Many of the 67 participating colleges are community colleges with expertise in job training, but others are universities such as Rutgers and Ashland University (Ohio) with experience in correctional education.
“Inmates who participate in any kind of educational program behind bars—from remedial math to vocational auto shop to college-level courses—are up to 43 percent less likely to reoffend and return to prison,” according to a 2013 RAND study. “They also appear to be far more likely to find a job after their release, and the social stability that comes with it.”
Every dollar invested in correctional education saves nearly five dollars, RAND concluded, by keeping former inmates out of prison.
Two-thirds of prison inmates are high school dropouts and many are illiterate. But they’ve got plenty of time to study. Online education makes it more feasible to educate prisoners.