By Christopher Zoukis
The Department of Education has announced a Second Chance Pell Pilot Program as part of the Obama administration’s goals to have a fairer criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, and reduce the impact of the effects of incarceration on communities. The Second Chance Pell Program will allow incarcerated individuals to receive Pell Grants to pursue further educational opportunities while still in prison.
The program was eliminated in the 1990s, and the goal of this experimental program, offered at only aa limited number of institutions, is to provide opportunities for prisoners in a system of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and rates of release to match. Educational opportunities allow individuals to work and support their families, as well as to grow and learn personally, and ultimately reduce the rate of recidivism and further incarceration costs. Incarcerated individuals who participate in educational initiatives are 43% less likely to return to prison than those who don’t. For every dollar spent on educational initiatives, an estimated $4 is saved on further incarceration costs.
The Pell grants cover tuition, books, and fees for eligible students in need of financial aid. For prisoners to participate, they must be eligible for release within 5 years of first enrolling in coursework. The pilot program for prisoners will not affect any other Pell funding, and the money earmarked for the program is much less than 1% of regular Pell funding.
Only a limited number of institutions have been chosen for the pilot program.
California State LA launched an education program in 2015 at the state prison in Lancaster, a minimum and maximum security prison for males, and is the only university in California to offer an in-person bachelor’s degree program for incarcerated students. It is an initiative of the university’s Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good along with the College of Professional and Global Education and the College of Arts and Letters.
Twenty-five students are currently enrolled, with goals to further increase the program by 2018. These incarcerated students will now be eligible for Pell grants under the new pilot program. The prison also offers a range of other programs to assist with effective re-entry including plumbing, masonry, and computer literacy, as well as the Words Uncaged Lecture Series, also in partnership with Cal State LA, to offer informal educational opportunities to prisoners who are not enrolled in formal programs.
Cal State LA is not the only school participating in the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program. 67 universities and colleges will partner with 141 federal and state institutions to educate 12,000 students. Other participating institutions include the University of Baltimore, and education will be provided in a range of formats, including prison-based education, online education, or a hybrid.
Like with Cal State LA, for many participating schools, this will be an expansion of existing educational initiatives for prisoners. The Second Chance Pell Program is not the only educational initiative of the Obama administration for incarcerated students. A range of resources has been released, as well as the My Brother’s Keeper Taskforce.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com