Pell Grants Offer Inmates a Second Chance

The Obama Administration has undertaken wide scale criminal justice reforms during their 8-year tenure, including reforms in sentencing and a clemency program. The Administration is also exploring ways to ease the transition from prison into society in the hopes of lowering recidivism rates.

Pell Grants for InmatesThe U.S. Department of Education is running a three-year trial program in prisons nationwide aimed at easing entry of offenders into society in the hopes of lowering the astounding rate of recidivism among ex offenders. The program will give Pell grants to inmates who meet certain requirements. Pell grants are a form of federal higher education funding that goes to very-low income students. The new Second Chance Pell Program will provide grants for 12,000 inmates to enroll in classes over the next three years.

Congress ended the original Pell grants for prisoners program in 1994 in response to a tough on crime mentality that was sweeping the country. At the time, officials were disappointed by the rates of recidivism of program participants and critics felt the focus in prisons should be on basic education. But old attitudes are changing. Advocate of college programs in prison say they not only reduce rates of recidivism, but they also foster improved conditions within the prison. In institutions where college courses are available, fights and other incidences of misconduct have dropped markedly.

Ashland is the only institution in Ohio to participate in the Pell program. The private university has one of the oldest prison-outreach programs in the country. The director of the institution says that if college is a way to shape minds than there is no better place than a penal institution to create change. In Ashland, inmates take online courses using tablets and texts provided by the college. Inmates are not allowed to access the Internet so they must download course material and submit assignments on the secure kiosk utilized for video visits. They meet with coordinators from Ashland each week to review their progress and address concerns.

Inmates enrolled in the program say learning while incarcerated is not easy. They have to pick a place and time to complete their studies while ignoring the jeers of other inmates. But, the difficulties of learning in prison can be well worth it. Advocates say the inmates they have interviewed say the programs give them a sense of self-worth and it gives them a different set of tools to solve problems.

The new Pell program will include a more detailed analysis of its effect on rates of recidivism. With rates of recidivism soaring, the hope is giving inmates an education will help break the cycle benefiting everyone.


If you need a lawyer for criminal defense in Columbus or Central Ohio or to defend a Federal Case, call Attorney W. Joseph Edwards 614-309-0243 who has over 25 years representing clients in these legal matters.

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