Case for Education in Prisons

November 6, 2019

New America released a report on postsecondary education in prisons as more policymakers express interest in providing Pell Grants to incarcerated students.

The D.C.-based think tank's recommendations include increasing the availability of education and job training in prisons; ensuring the programs lead to pathways for formal degrees; making education and job training programs part of the re-entry process; and reinstating Pell Grants to incarcerated populations.

A larger proportion of incarcerated adults have lower education levels than the general public, which could make re-entry and finding a stable job more difficult, the report says. Because 94 percent of those incarcerated in federal and state prisons will one day be released, the report says education is an important part of the rehabilitative process.

College-in-prison programs decreased dramatically after the 1994 "crime bill" was passed, preventing incarcerated adults from using Pell Grants.

In its analysis, New America found that incarcerated adults tend to be "significantly less proficient" than the general public in both literacy and numeracy skills. When incarcerated adults complete a postsecondary degree or certificate, that gap closes and sometimes goes away, the report also found. Job training also closes this gap, but to a lesser degree.

The report also warns policy makers to not place limits on who can use the Pell Grant while incarcerated, because, according to its research, there is no relationship between the time incarcerated adults have left to serve and their levels of interest, participation and completion of education and job training programs.

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