In 1994, the United States government banned prisoners from getting federal Pell grants for college classes. The powers-that-be felt that it was unfair to award convicted criminals with funds from a limited pool of money. On the other side, arguments were made that a college education is a good way to keep people from returning to prison. Now, thanks to the Obama administration, as many as 12,000 inmates will be able to their finance college educations with Pell grants, starting next month.
The Obama administration selected 67 colleges and universities Thursday for the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, an experiment to help prisoners earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree while incarcerated. The schools will work with more than 100 federal and state penitentiaries to enroll inmates who qualify for Pell, a form of federal aid that covers tuition, books and fees for college students with financial need. Prisoners must be eligible for release within five years of enrolling in coursework.
The new initiative will provide $30 million in Pell grants to inmates in 27 states. According to Education Secretary John B. King Jr., “the funding is less than 0.1 percent of the overall $30 billion Pell program, and the pilot won’t affect funding to eligible Pell recipients who are not incarcerated.” Most higher educational institutions have been invited to join. Classes will be held in the facilities or online. “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 ad communities,” said King. “This belief in second chances is fundamental to who we are as Americans.”