Vera Institute of Justice Applauds U.S. Department of Education Expansion of Second Chance Pell

73 New Colleges to Expand College in Prison in 48 States & Territories

New York, NY - Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced the expansion of the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative (Second Chance Pell) to include a third cohort of 73 new schools. Selected schools will provide need-based Pell Grants to people in state and federal prisons, enabling thousands more people to access life-changing postsecondary education in the years ahead. Currently, there are 130 colleges teaching in 42 states and the District of Columbia participating in Second Chance Pell. The addition of 73 schools, including 24 HBCUs and minority serving institutions, will bring the total to more than 200 colleges. With colleges in Nevada, Idaho, and New Hampshire joining Second Chance Pell, the program will soon be operating in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The Vera Institute of Justice has provided technical assistance to the participating colleges and corrections departments since Second Chance Pell’s inception, working to ensure that programs deliver quality higher education in prison and post-release.

“Five years into Second Chance Pell, more than 28,000 people in prison have enrolled in postsecondary education, setting themselves up for greater success on release. Access to college in prison makes our communities stronger and safer,” said Margaret diZerega, Unlocking Potential initiative director at the Vera Institute of Justice. “Vera welcomes the third cohort of Second Chance Pell colleges and looks forward to working with school leadership, corrections partners, and the Department of Education in advance of broader Pell restoration in 2023.”

Second Chance Pell’s success and expansion over the Obama, Trump, and now Biden administrations laid the groundwork for the passage of federal legislation restoring Pell eligibility to people in all U.S. prisons in late 2020. Vera estimates that more than 463,000 people in prison will be eligible for Pell Grants when access is reinstated in July 2023.

“The opportunity to earn my education while incarcerated offered me a new beginning and a true purpose for my humanity,” said Jessica Henry, a formerly incarcerated graduate of Jackson College’s program in Michigan. “I was able to change my behavior along with my mindset while in the academic environment that college provided. My graduation was truly the factor that saved me from recidivism.”

Jessica completed three associate’s degrees in general studies, applied science, and business administration while at Jackson College and is currently working toward a bachelor's degree in social work at Spring Arbor University in Michigan.

Credentials offered by Second Chance Pell colleges range from career and technical certifications to associate’s and bachelor's degrees.

“Due in large part to Second Chance Pell, the Moreau College Initiative at Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame has been able to confer more than 100 Associate and 29 Bachelor of Arts degrees since 2014,” said Alesha Seroczynski, associate dean of the Moreau College Initiative in Indiana. “Our students’ liberal arts education ensures that they are ready for a wide variety of personal and professional opportunities after release, and our alumni have found gainful employment with notable companies including Lippert Components, Ball Inc., Barometer Trading, Crossroads Solar, Caterpillar, General Motors, Hoaglin Catering, and the Indiana Department of Transportation. We are very proud of everything our students have become!”

Investing in the education of people in prison pays off. Research shows that access to postsecondary education in prison reduces recidivism, makes corrections facilities safer for people who live and work in prison, and increases graduates’ employment and earning potential on release—a benefit to the families and communities to which the graduates return.

“Education helps incarcerated students embrace challenges and build skills that ensure they are ready to join the workforce and positively contribute to society,” said Melissa Smith, assistant director of prison programs with Colorado’s Department of Corrections. “The most impactful resource to promote the rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals is the advancement of equitable education programs. The Second Chance Pell programs ensure that incarcerated students have the opportunity to expand their learning and develop a future full of positive role models, employment opportunities, and skills to overcome any obstacle.”

To see a full list of colleges selected in the third cohort of Second Chance Pell, including Indiana Wesleyan University, Pueblo Community College (CO), Shaw University (NC), and Lewis-Clark State College (ID) visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website.


About the Vera Institute of Justice

The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and activists working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit