The Battle to Bring Back Pell Grants for Prisoners

By Jean Trounstine - Boston Daily

Critics have long said that college classes behind bars coddle criminals. But here’s a no-brainer: Would you prefer living next door to a released prisoner who is or is not college-educated?

Research shows that the more education a person has, the less likely that person is to return to crime. Not only have college classes for prisoners consistently reduced recidivism, they’ve helped the formerly incarcerated get jobs upon release and lessened disciplinary issues and racial barriers behind bars—all of which means that when an educated prisoner returns to the streets, we all benefit.

But not everyone realizes this reality. That’s why a recent conference at Rutgers University called for the reinstating of Pell Grants nationwide to prisoners in federal and state facilities. College education in prison was mostly supported by Pell Grants until a little-known provision in a major crime control law passed through Congress in 1994 and devastated prison education across the country. The amendment grew out of the misrepresentation that Pell Grants for prisoners ripped opportunity out of the hands of non-criminals who needed to educate their children. The truth is that, nationwide, 25,000 prisoner-students received grants of the 4.7 million Pells dispersed—which means that less than 1 percent were given to the incarcerated.

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(This article first appeared in the Boston Daily and is excerpted here by permission.)