Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Selected

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education selected 67 colleges and universities to serve as partners for the Second Chance Pell Program. These pilot partnerships, which include both two- and four-year schools, will enroll nearly 12,000 incarcerated students from more than 141 federal and state correctional institutions.

Participating schools will offer online and classroom courses across many associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and technical and non-technical certificate programs. The Second Chance Pell Program signals the Administration’s continued commitment to reduce mass incarceration. It’s one of many strategies across multiple agencies to divert people from the justice system and strengthen pathways to re-entry.

CLASP strongly supports providing Pell grants to incarcerated students, who were stripped of their eligibility under an amendment to the Higher Education Act in 1994. Without Pell to provide funding, many inmates have been shut out of postsecondary education at great opportunity costs. Indeed, research demonstrates that correctional education is highly cost-effective and significantly improves outcomes, including reduced recidivism. The Second Chance Pell Program is a strong step toward increasing opportunity and building pathways to economic security for returning citizens. Coordinating with broader reform efforts across federal agencies in housing, health, and labor will strengthen this mission.

Introduced by Representative Donna Edwards in May 2015, the Restoring Education and Learning Act (REAL) would permanently reinstate Pell eligibility for incarcerated students. Eligibility expansion would represent only a marginal fraction of Pell dollars and would bring benefits that far outweigh these costs. There are currently 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., comprising more than 20 percent of the world’s prison population. For these individuals, who are disproportionately people of color, mass incarceration sharply restricts their opportunities for life after prison. It’s simply common sense to provide cost-effective postsecondary opportunities that help them gain skills, secure good jobs, and contribute to society after incarceration.

Postsecondary education can play a vital role in comprehensive criminal justice reform. The Second Chance Pell Program is a promising first step toward addressing the costs—economic and human—of mass incarceration.