Vera Institute of Justice Applauds the Reintroduction of the REAL Act

Meredith Kesler

NEW YORK, NY—Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) along with Reps. Danny Davis (D-IL), Jim Banks (R-IN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and French Hill (R-AR) today announced the bicameral and bipartisan reintroduction of the Restoring Education And Learning (REAL) Act, a bill that would restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals and help remove one of the largest barriers to reentry for incarcerated people.

The reintroduction adds to the growing momentum from members of both sides of the aisle to address the “tough on crime” era policy that today is widely recognized as having caused more harm than good.

Today, an estimated 65 percent of the 1.5 million people in prison are Pell-eligible but cannot access federal tuition assistance because of the ban, according to the findings of a report released by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality earlier this year.

Despite this, a growing body of evidence has found that expanding access to postsecondary education in prison would provide formerly incarcerated people with greater economic opportunity, help to reduce recidivism rates, increase public safety and cut state expenditures on prisons.

Specifically, Vera’s report 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 REAL Act reintroduction:

“The bipartisan reintroduction of the REAL Act underscores the renewed momentum to repeal the federal ban on Pell grants for incarcerated people.

“The federal ban on Pell grants for people in prison is a relic of the ‘tough on crime’ era that is now widely recognized as having caused more harm than good. Restoring Pell eligibility for incarcerated people is a common-sense next step toward a more just and restorative criminal justice system.

“Accredited, postsecondary courses in prison have been found by a number of studies to dramatically reduce recidivism rates while also cutting costly state prison expenditures and creating safer communities by providing individuals with greater economic opportunity upon release.

“We thank Sen. Schatz, Sen. Lee, Sen. Durbin, Rep. Davis, Rep. Banks, Rep. Lee and Rep. Hill for their work on the REAL Act reintroduction and look forward to working with them, as well as other champions in Congress, on enacting this critical legislation.

“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.”

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