12,000 Inmates Receive Pell Grants for College Education

Clasped hands behind bars

A new program from the Obama administration will allow some inmates to be eligible for Pell grants to further their education.
Image: Shutterstock

Sixty-seven American institutions will take part in offering classes to as many as 12,000 prison inmates around the country. Following the approval of the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, instituted by the Obama administration, inmates will be able to use federal Pell grants to finance the classes. Congress has banned providing financial aid to prisoners for the past 22 years. That ban has not been dismantled, but the Obama administration is experimenting.

The United States Department of Education announced that it would be rolling out the Pell grant program in 2015, and now the program is getting on its feet.

“The evidence is clear,” said John B. King, Jr., U.S. education secretary. “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.”

The two- and four-year colleges participating in the program will work with state and federal correctional institutions to teach inmates in actual classrooms in their buildings. Schools will also develop online programs as well as classes that are both physical and online. But not every inmate will be eligible for the Pell program: inmates only qualify if they’re due to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework, says the Department of Education. But for those inmates who are eligible, the Pell grant will cover tuition, books, and fees for classes.

“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,” King, Jr. added. “This belief in second chances is fundamental to who we are as Americans.”

The Obama administration is providing $30 million in Pell grants to inmates in 27 states—funding that accounts for less than .1 percent of the Pell program overall, which is worth an estimated $30 billion. Schools can begin offering courses for prisoners as early as July 1st, 2016—just a handful of days away.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke out on the importance of the new Pell program this week. “Access to high-quality education is vital to ensuring that justice-involved individuals have an opportunity to reclaim their lives and restore their futures. This program will help give deserving incarcerated individuals the skills to live lives of purpose and contribute to society upon their release.”

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