Statement from Vera on U.S. Department of Education's Decision to Renew Second Chance Pell

NEW YORK, NY – The U.S. Department of Education announced yesterday it has renewed the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative for another year. The initiative, which was announced in 2015, provides need-based Pell grants to people in state and federal prisons through partnerships with 65 colleges in 27 states.

According to the Department of Education, during the first school year of the pilot 8,500 students were awarded $13.2 million in Pell Grant funds. That grew to 11,000 students who were awarded $22 million in the second school year, and so far this school year 10,000 students have received about $13.4 million.

Despite this, the vast majority of people in prison remain unable to access postsecondary programming due to state and federal barriers like the Pell ban. A new report released by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality last month found that repealing the federal ban on Pell Grants for people in prison would:

  • Increase employment rates among formerly incarcerated students by 10 percent, on average; combined earnings among all formerly incarcerated people would increase by $45.3 million during the first year of release alone;
  • Provide employers with a larger pool of skilled workers to hire; and
  • Reduce recidivism rates among participating students, saving states a combined $365.8 million in decreased prison costs per year.

Below you’ll find a statement from Nick Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice, in response to the news:

“Second Chance Pell has made clear that when barriers to postsecondary education in prison fall, enrollment will rise. However, we encourage Congress and the White House to go one step further.

"The federal ban on Pell grants for incarcerated people is a relic of the infamously punitive 1994 crime bill and has no place in an America that overwhelmingly supports common-sense criminal justice reform.

“Greater access to postsecondary education can help people who are incarcerated break the pernicious link between lack of opportunity and recidivism—a link that has disproportionately trapped too many people of color in generational cycles of poverty and incarceration.

“If we’re truly committed to disrupting mass incarceration and ensuring equal justice for all, lifting the ban on Pell grants is one of the most effective routes to achieving that goal.”