Though numerous states and the federal government have experimented with the remedy of prison reform, many would argue there is still a ways to go to achieve truly positive, influential change. There are many factors that contribute to prison reform, including breaking down legal barriers, reconstructing the societal stigma of a former prisoner, and providing training and education that can be applied outside prison walls.
Prisoner or not, education has the power to truly impact a person’s life by opening doors and inspiring exploration. Providing education and workforce programs in prison is a crucial way to assist incarcerated individuals in gaining and developing skills to assist them in living successfully outside the walls of prison. While studies show the correlation between participating in these programs and both lower recidivism rates and higher employment prospects, postsecondary education programs are still not widely available.
In a new report by the Vera Institute of Justice and Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, the authors outline how providing postsecondary education in prison reportedly shows significant benefits for both prisons and prisoners with the utilization of Pell Grants: money provided by the government to assist students in paying for their college education. For example, the data presents the correctional “cost savings associated with postsecondary education programs” and how it is estimated that, on average, states’ costs would decrease by $7.6 million dollars. Additionally, in the 2013 meta-analysis conducted by the RAND Corporation, they found that “inmates who participated in correctional education programs had a 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than those who did not.”
As a result of the Higher Education Act of 1965, federal Pell Grants were available for students, both incarcerated and not, who require financial assistance to receive an education.
Throughout the early to mid-1990s, new amendments and acts limited the already minimal funding received by incarcerated students to zero. The loss of funding resulted in a consequential drop in postsecondary education programs, but nevertheless, the dishearteningly high incarceration rates remained rampant.
Despite the many roadblocks, there are hopeful efforts being made by lawmakers. The Real Act of 2016 was presented in both the Senate and House with bipartisan support with the main objective of reinstating “federal Pell Grant eligibility for individuals incarcerated in Federal and State penal institutions.” If we can continue to inspire and support our lawmakers to push for this and similar legislation we will move closer to providing prisoners with the postsecondary education programs that are proven to better their lives and, in turn, the state of our society as a whole.
Davis, L. M., Bozick, R., Steele, J. L., Saunders, J., & Miles, J. N. V. (2013). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults. RAND Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR266.html
Federal Student Aid. (n.d.). Federal Pell Grants. Retrieved from https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/grants-scholarships/pell.
Oakford, P., Brumfield, C., Goldvale, C., Tatum, L., diZerega, M., & Patrick, F. (2019). Investing in Futures: Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prison. Vera Institute of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.vera.org/publications/investing-in-futures-education-in-prison
114TH CONGRESS 2D SESSION Bill: Restoring Education 5 And Learning Act of 2016. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.schatz.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/AEG16307 (002).pdf.