As our country continues to grapple with how to best reform the criminal justice system, there is bipartisan momentum at the federal level to support high-quality postsecondary educational options in prison.

The logical first step would be for Congress to lift the ban on Pell Grant eligibility for students who are incarcerated.

The Problem:

  • Congress instituted a ban on the use of federal Pell Grants by incarcerated students in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.
  • The number of education programs in prisons subsequently dropped from more than 350 in 1990 to only a dozen in 2005.
  • The percentage of incarcerated individuals participating in postsecondary education programs also dropped from 14 percent in 1991 to 7 percent in 2004.

The Need:

  • Only about half of adults in prison have a high school diploma or more advanced education.
  • By 2020, about 65 percent of American jobs will require some form of college.
  • Earning a college degree provides more job security, employment opportunities, and higher wages.
  • College graduates are less likely to go (or, in this case, return) to prison

The Benefits:

  • Research shows that correctional education programs reduce the rate of recidivism by 43 percent , increase the rate of employment after release by 13 percent, and are associated with fewer violent incidents in participating prisons.
  • These programs result in net savings to taxpayers and are significantly more cost-efficient than just incarceration.
  • They also represent an essential strategy for breaking the cycles of incarceration and poverty and helping formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrate into society.

The Answer:

  • Congress can and should act now to repeal the ban on Pell Grant access for students who are incarcerated, providing a critical source of support for high-quality higher education in prison.