About Pell Grants for Prisoners
(BOP) - In 1994, Congress removed Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated people. For 22 years, incarcerated people who wanted a college education had to pay for classes with personal funds or Unicor scholarships.
In 2015, the Second Chance Pell experiment was established to provide Pell Grants to incarcerated people in eligible postsecondary programs. In 2016, six BOP institutions were selected to pilot fully funded Second Chance Pell Grant college programs. Since the initial piloted programs in December 2016, the BOP has established additional programs. Currently, the BOP has 14 Second Chance Pell programs with 431 students enrolled. Adults in BOP custody have been able to earn 208 associate degrees, 16 bachelor's degrees, and 13 certificates.
On December 27, 2020, the FAFSA Simplification Act passed as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, and included the restoration of Pell Grants for students incarcerated in federal or state penal institutions and students who are subject to involuntary commitments.
As of July 1, 2023, all provisions of the FAFSA Simplification Act related to incarcerated students are active. This means that the Pell Grant is now available to all qualified incarcerated people to further pursue post-secondary education for jobs with livable wages. While this process must be initiated and managed by the individual postsecondary school, the BOP eagerly awaits the increase in partnership opportunities.
The Hill: Around 760,000 people in prison will be eligible for free college with Pell Grant expansion
An education department spokesperson said around 760,000 prisoners will be eligible for the Pell Grant, which is also increasing at the beginning of July to $7,395.
The expanded eligibility means about 30,000 additional prisoners will be getting $130 million worth of aid per year to get their education while they are serving their sentences, the spokesperson said.
The new rules, which overturn a 1994 ban on Pell Grants for prisoners, begin to address decades of policy during the “tough on crime” 1970s-2000 that brought about mass incarceration and stark racial disparities in the nation’s 1.9 million prison population
For prisoners who get their college degrees, including those at Folsom State Prison who got grants during an experimental period that started in 2016, it can be the difference between walking free with a life ahead and ending up back behind bars. Finding a job is difficult with a criminal conviction, and a college degree is an advantage former prisoners desperately need.
Gerald Massey, one of 11 Folsom students graduating with a degree from the California State University at Sacramento, has served nine years of a 15-to-life sentence for a drunken driving incident that killed his close friend.
“The last day I talked to him, he was telling me, I should go back to college,” Massey said. “So when I came into prison and I saw an opportunity to go to college, I took it.”