A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress last week would allow inmates in federal and state prisons to be eligible for Pell grants, to pay for college classes while they are in jail.
Known as the “REAL Act,” the bill would repeal a 1994 Clinton-era ban on prisoners’ eligibility for the grants.
The Senate bill was introduced April 9 by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). The corresponding House bill was introduced by Congress members Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), and French Hill (R-Ark.), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
A press release from Senator Schatz’s office pointed to a report finding that inmates who take part in correctional education while in jail are 43 percent less likely to commit future crimes than those who do not participate in such education, and 13 percent more likely to find a job after their release.
“When we give people in prison an opportunity to earn an education, our communities are safer, taxpayers save money, and we can end the cycle of recidivism,” Schatz said.
“The REAL Act is an important part of providing opportunity to federal offenders and reducing recidivism,” Senator Lee added.
The legislation was applauded by Prison Fellowship, a nationwide Christian nonprofit group that facilitates classes, mentorship, Bible studies, and support for inmates and their families, as well as advocates for justice reform.
Craig DeRoche, senior vice president of advocacy and public policy for Prison Fellowship, said the organization is “thrilled to see this bipartisan effort to ensure that people won't return to crime, but instead, can come home as good citizens trained to start a job and support their families.”
“The REAL Act won't change the day on which someone is released from prison, but it can dramatically change the person who is coming home,” said Heather Rice-Minus, the organization’s vice president of government affairs.
“By unlocking second chances through access to education, we recognize the human dignity and potential of our brothers and sisters behind bars and will realize safer communities as a result,” she continued.
The legislation also drew a statement of support from FAMM, a nonprofit organization that advocates for sentencing reform.
“It’s critically important that people in prison have access to educational opportunities considering that 94 percent will come home someday,” said FAMM President Kevin Ring.
“Reinstating Pell Grants is a great next step in the federal push for criminal justice reform,” he said, pointing to education as an effective means of reducing recidivism.
“FAMM thanks the bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators who introduced this bill and urges Congress to support the full restoration of Pell Grants to those in state and federal prisons,” he said.