Congress lifts long-standing ban on Pell grants to people in prison

Congress lifts long-standing ban on Pell grants to people in prison

When Congress decided in 1994 to ban federal student aid for people behind bars, it was part of a wider political agenda to “get tough on crime” — even though crime rates had begun to fall in the 1990s.

The number of people behind bars grew, but, without access to federal student aid, higher education programs in America’s correctional facilities dwindled.

On Dec. 21, 2020, Congress moved to lift the long-standing ban on federal student aid — specifically, the Pell grant — for those who are incarcerated. The decision comes after a long push for prison reforms that included calls for a greater emphasis on rehabilitation, reducing prison populations and making prison sentences less harsh.
$1.4 trillion
The measure is part of a US$1.4 trillion government spending bill for 2021 that is attached to a pandemic relief bill.

As the director of a prison college program at The University of Baltimore, I know firsthand that providing college for people in prison will make a positive difference in their lives. It will also improve public safety and save taxpayers money.

Research by the Rand Corp. has shown that participation in prison education programs reduces by 43% the rate at which people reoffend. The reduction in the likelihood to break the law means that for every dollar spent on prison education, taxpayers save $5 in reincarceration costs.
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