For the first time in over 20 years, inmates will be eligible to receive financial aid to pay for their college education while behind bars.
The Obama administration announced the start of the “Second Chance Pell Pilot” program last month, and an estimated 12,000 prisoners will be able to get a college education thanks to the federal grant money. A total of 67 different colleges and universities are participating in the program, along with 141 correctional institutions.
Back in 1994, the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act banned inmates from having access to federal grant money to get an education while they are incarcerated. Now the U.S. Department of Education will offer classroom instruction as well as online programs, thanks to the experimental change in legislation.
Statistics from Rand Corp. show that inmates who participate in educational programs are 43 percent less likely to be sent back to prison within three years of being released.
“The evidence is clear. Promoting the education and job training for incarcerated individuals makes communities safer by reducing recidivism, and saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration,” Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said in a statement.
Under the new program, the Department of Education selected 67 colleges and universities who will partner with more than 100 Federal and state correctional institutions to enroll roughly 12,000 incarcerated students in educational and training programs. Selected schools will offer classroom-based instruction, online education, or a hybrid of both at corrections facilities; the vast majority of selected schools are public two- and four-year institutions.
“I applaud the institutions that have partnered to develop high-quality programs that will equip these students with invaluable learning. The knowledge and skills they acquire will promote successful reintegration and enable them become active and engaged citizens,” he added.
Inmates will be allowed to apply for up to $5,815 as long as they meet the requirements, which include having a release date that is less than five years away. The Second Chance Pell grant money will only make up around 0.1 percent of the $30 million total federal grant money available to college students.
President Obama is living up to his promise to improve education by making college and university classes more available and accessible to all Americans, which includes an executive order he signed in June of 2014 to expand a program that allows people with student loan debt to pay only 10 percent of their income, and have their debts forgiven after 20 years.
King also said, “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 and communities. This belief in second chances is fundamental to who we are as Americans.”