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A new report by the Vera Institute of Justice and Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality that examined the economic benefits of educating incarcerated people recommends lifting the ban on providing federal financial aid to inmates.
"While it is just one component of a policy framework to improve people's chances post-release, restoring Pell Grant access to people in prison and rebuilding and expanding postsecondary education programs in prisons would yield far-reaching economic benefits," the report states. "Formerly incarcerated people who re-enter the labor market with greater levels of education are more likely to find employment and less likely to return to prison, potentially improving social and economic outcomes for their communities, families and themselves while leading to significant savings to states."
The report, which was released today, found that 58 percent of prison inmates don't complete an education program while in prison, while 64 percent of prisoners are academically eligible to enroll in a college prison program. But only 9 percent of inmates complete a college prison program. The Second Chance Pell program, a pilot program of the U.S. Department of Education, serves 12,000 inmates a year nationally. But if the ban on federal financial aid for inmates were lifted, about 463,000 prisoners would be eligible for a Pell Grant.
Employment rates for former inmates also increase by nearly 10 percent, on average, after they participate in a college program, according to the report. The combined wages earned by all formerly incarcerated people would increase by about $45.3 million during their first year back in their communities.
Expanding access to college prison programs could also reduce state prison spending. The report found that incarceration costs across states would decrease by $365.8 million a year because recidivism rates would likely decrease.