New federal pilot project restores Pell Grants for prisoners

Pell GrantsAlthough a college education is not for everyone, it can be a very beneficial use of the time that many people spend behind bars. To help inmates cover the cost of that education, the Obama Administration created the Second Chance Pell pilot program, with 67 participating colleges and universities announced late last month.

Pell Grants are given by the U.S. federal government to students with financial need and they do not need to be repaid. Before 1995 prisoners had access to these grants, but the passage of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act brought an end to the practice. Over the years there have been efforts to restore them, and more than two decades later, Pell Grants for prisoners are back again.

The colleges and universities chosen to participate will partner with more than 100 federal and state penal institutions to enroll roughly 12,000 incarcerated students in educational and training programs. These institutions may provide federal Pell Grants to qualified students who are incarcerated and are likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework.

“Access to high quality education is vital to ensuring that justice-involved individuals have an opportunity to reclaim their lives and restore their futures,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

“Through this partnership with the Department of Education and institutions of higher learning around the country, this program will help give deserving incarcerated individuals the skills to live lives of purpose and contribute to society upon their release.”

Most programs classroom-based

Most of the schools are public two-year and four-year institutions that will offer classroom-based instructions on-site at various corrections facilities. Others plan to offer online education or a combination of both classroom and online instruction. About 37 percent of the schools will offer prison-based education for the first time. Although it depends on the institution, schools could begin offering education and training programs as early as July 1.

The colleges and universities selected for the pilot project include Auburn University in Alabama, Bennington College in Vermont, California State University Los Angeles, Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College in Minnesota, Marymount Manhattan College in New York, Rutgers in New Jersey and Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma, among many others.

Research has proved that educating prisoners pays off. A 2013 study from the RAND Corp., funded by the Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

Recognizing the economic and social benefits of education for prisoners, the Pell Grant pilot project will build on the Obama Administration’s commitment to create a fairer and more effective criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, and combat the impact of mass incarceration on families and communities through educational opportunity.

 

RAND Corp. study calls for greater attention to inmate education

classroom-381900_640In its “How Effective is Correctional Education, and Where do We Go From Here?” research report, the RAND Corp. evaluated the content, funding and future of education programs at correctional facilities across the U.S.

Through funding from the Second Chance Act of 2007, the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice engaged RAND Corp. to research the status of correctional education. The results, laid out in this thought-provoking report released last year, call for more attention and research to be dedicated to this crucial issue.

With 40% of the 700,000 people who are released from federal and state prisons each year reincarcerated within three years, something has to be done – and that something should start with education and vocational programs that will help give them the skills they need to gain employment and stay out of prison, the study contends.

RAND researchers looked at four types of education: instruction in such basic skills as reading, writing and arithmetic; high school education to prepare for the GED; vocational education; and college level classes that could lead to an A.A. or B.A. degree. One requirement to be considered was that the education program take place – at least in part – within a correctional facility.

In evaluating 58 previous empirical research studies – selected from 1,112 conducted between 1980 and 2011 – the RAND researchers discovered that “on average, inmates who participated in correctional education programs had a 43% lower odds of recidivating than inmates who did not.”

They also found that “the odds of obtaining employment post-release among inmates who participated in correctional education (either academic or vocational/career and technical education programs) were 13% higher than the odds for those who did not.”

The study included the RAND Correctional Education Survey, a web-based survey of correctional education directors in all 50 states conducted in July 2013. Representatives of 46 out of the 50 states responded.

The survey revealed that:

  • Most states provide basic education, vocational educational/CTE programs and GED courses.
  • 32 states provide secondary and post-secondary education.
  • 24 states have a mandatory education participation requirement for those without a high school diploma or GED.

In spite of the critical need for computer skills to get work these days, many states’ correctional facilities are lacking in computer training:

  • 39 states offer desktop computers and 17 states laptops for use for instructional purposes.
  • 24 states offer Microsoft Office certification.
  • 26 states prevent inmate students from access to Internet technology.

After studying data and the educational situations in 46 states, the RAND Corp. came up with a series of recommendations that include:

  • Determine what works and what doesn’t work so that “policymakers and state correctional education directors can make informed trade-offs in budget discussions.”
  • Encourage governments and nonprofits to fund “evaluations of programs that illustrate different educational instructional models, that are trying innovative strategies to implement technology and leverage distance learning in the classroom, and are analyzing what lessons from the larger literature on adult education may be applied to correctional education.“
  • “Conduct new research on instructional quality in correctional education settings and on ways to leverage computer technology to enhance instruction.”
  • “Conduct a summit at the state and federal levels with private industry about what opportunities are available to formerly incarcerated individuals and what skills will be needed in the future.”

For more information about the nonprofit RAND Corp. and the research it does visit its website.