One congresswoman takes her own steps to reinstate Pell grant access to Incarcerated students, receives praise from national coalition
WASHINGTON D.C. /NEW YORK, NY – US Representative Donna F. Edwards (MD-4), along with Reps. Danny K. Davis (IL-7), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-3), Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-3), and Cedric Richmond (LA-2), introduced the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act today, which aims to return access to Pell grants for qualified incarcerated individuals across the country.
A move the Education from the Inside Out Coalition says will decrease reliance on public assistance, increase employment rates, improve physical and mental health, not to mention strengthen communities in the process.
Pell grant benefits were previously extended by the U.S. government to incarcerated students until a “tough on crime” agenda swept the US legislature in the mid-1990s. That is when the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was passed, and Pell grants were denied to qualified individuals looking to pursue an education while incarcerated.
The move was detrimental to in-prison programs across the country, according to EIO, which says depleted in-prison college programs from 350 to just 12 by 2005.
The Bill aims to “reinstate Federal Pell Grant eligibility for individuals incarcerated in Federal and State penal institutions, and for other purposes,” and if passed and instated would take effect as soon as the 2015-2016 school year.
While some critics claim the move forces tax payers to “unfairly” pay for the education of incarcerated individuals meant to be punished while in prison, not educated, the Coalition disagrees.
“Education has proven to reduce recidivism, and help incarcerated individuals get a leg up prior to re-entry,” said Education from the Inside Out Co-founder Vivian Nixon. “Education empowers incarcerated students with tools that will prevent them from reoffending in the future,”
While about 40% of incarcerated individuals currently reoffend within three years of release, studies show educated individuals are significant less likely to reoffend in the same time fame.
“Even former president Bill Clinton who signed the 1994 bill that repealed Pell grant eligibility for incarcerated students, has come out against many of the ‘tough on crime’ initiatives from the early 90s, and the Pell ban for incarcerated individuals was one of them,” said Nixon.
“It is imperative that the Department of Corrections works with educators to ensure the highest quality program can be achieved for incarcerated individuals.”
Original Cosponsors (17) of the REAL Act include Reps. Danny K. Davis (IL-7), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-3), Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-3), Cedric L. Richmond (LA-2), John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Stacey Plaskett (VI), Charles B. Rangel (NY-13), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), John Lewis (GA-5), Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-3), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson (GA-4), Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-4), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Ted Lieu (CA-33).
The REAL Act is supported by the ACLU, Correctional Education Association (CAC), Drug Policy Alliance, Education From the Inside Out Coalition, Legal Action Center, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Employment Law Project (NELP).