Pell Grants and Prisoners

Brief Analyses | Education

No. 821
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
by Hannah Norman

The states are looking for ways to reduce their prison costs. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, the states spent over $52 billion on prisons in fiscal year 2012. Correctional education and vocational training programs have been shown to save money over the long term by reducing recidivism. Controversially, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 specifically made prisoners ineligible to receive Pell Grants meant to make college more affordable to students from low-income families. The act effectively ended federally subsidized college-level education for inmates. However, the U.S. Department of Education recently began allowing postsecondary institutions to receive Pell Grants for distance learning students in federal or state prisons through an experimental program allowed under the law. But this experimental program may be costly and less successful than traditional vocational training programs.

What Are Pell Grants? Pell Grants provide federally funded monetary awards to undergraduate students based on financial need. The awards are allocated directly to participating postsecondary institutions and then given to students who apply and qualify. Postsecondary institutions can now apply to receive these Grants for prisoners participating in Postsecondary Correctional Education, and more than 200 colleges have already done so. The student must eventually be eligible for release from the correctional facility in their lifetime, meet the financial requirements of the Pell Grant and meet any requirements demanded by the prison and postsecondary institution.

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