U.S House of Representatives Votes to Lift the Ban on Pell Grants for People in Prison

The House joins governors, businesses, education organizations, and justice groups in supporting Pell reinstatement

WASHINGTON, DC -- The House of Representatives has voted to lift the longstanding ban on Pell Grants for people in state and federal prisons. The provision to lift the ban was included in the appropriations minibus that cleared the House earlier today. The vote represents a historic milestone in the effort to ensure that people in prison can access postsecondary education through Pell Grants.

People in prison have been barred from obtaining federal Pell Grants (which are intended to help the most economically disadvantaged people) to further their education since Congress passed the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act in 1994. However, since 2016, the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative has helped to make clear that broad access to postsecondary education is a smart and effective strategy that produces results.

Access to postsecondary courses in prison dramatically reduces recidivism rates while also cutting costly state prison expenditures, saving taxpayers money and releasing funds that could be directed to other community programs. The vast majority of incarcerated students will return home eventually, and access to postsecondary education creates opportunities for them to develop skills that will help them secure jobs, which will in turn strengthen families and communities. Access to education also improves conditions within prisons, which leads to increased safety for both incarcerated people and corrections professionals.

Nicholas Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice, released the following statement in response to the House’s historic vote:

“Lifting the ban on Pell Grants is one of the most straightforward and effective ways we can create opportunities for incarcerated students and their families as well as strengthen the communities to which they return. And it’s something we can do now. The readiness of this policy fix is especially critical because we believe that lifting this ban is an important step toward a more equitable society.

“Access to education is one of the ways we’ve traditionally secured upward mobility and accrued wealth in this nation. But for centuries, we’ve designed systems and implemented policies that disproportionately harm Black and brown people, including the Pell ban. Reinstating access to Pell Grants is one of the many ways we can and must ensure that our institutions and systems are equitable.

“The House now joins governors from across the nation, major corporations, education and justice advocates, and so many others in support of ending this ban. We look forward to working with lawmakers from both chambers in Congress in the weeks and months ahead to get Pell reinstatement over the finish line. Lifting the ban on Pell Grants for all eligible incarcerated people will improve safety in prisons, help us break cycles of recidivism, and create opportunity. Lawmakers must seize on this momentum and finally lift the ban for all incarcerated students.

“Today’s historic vote in the House represents a major step forward, but our work is not done. The Vera Institute of Justice is committed to lifting the ban for all incarcerated students once and for all, and we will not rest until we achieve this reality.”

Momentum for lifting the Pell ban for all people in prison has been growing steadily. Last fall, J.P. Morgan Chase joined other major American employers in endorsing Pell Grant restoration for incarcerated people, and the National District Attorneys Association, Correctional Leaders Association, American Association of Community Colleges, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce have also expressed their support.

The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely on for safety and justice. Vera collaborates with the communities most impacted by these systems and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement change. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color and frames all work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. Vera has offices in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

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