Reformers, Academics Call for Lifting Ban on Pell Grants for Prisoners

Calling it a matter of public safety, a moral obligation—and even a potential revenue boon for colleges and universities—a group of criminal justice reformers and academics gathered Thursday to call for an end to the federal ban on Pell Grants for prisoners.

“It’s not about giving somebody something,” said Dr. Todd Clear, Dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers. “It’s about stopping craziness.”

Clear made his remarks Thursday at the Rutgers University Paul Robeson Campus Center during an event titled “Pell Grants and Prison Education: How Pell Grant Access in Prison Transforms Lives.”

The “craziness” to which Clear and other speakers were referring is the Republican-led 1994 federal ban on Pell Grants to prisoners—a policy they criticized as being backward, contrary to public safety and against human rights.

Among those who spoke in support of lifting the ban on Pell Grants to prisoners was Dallas Pell, daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, father of Pell Grants.

Pell, who is the founder of an organization called Pell Grants for Public Safety, said providing education for individuals in prison is a “no-brainer” and “one of the most effective tools we have to make our community safe.”

John J. Farmer Jr., former New Jersey attorney general and now Dean and Professor of Law at the Rutgers School of Law, called the restoration of Pell Grants for prisoners “one of the most important dialogues we can have in the context of law enforcement.”

“I think that education in our prisons is the key to preventing recidivism,” said Farmer.

Various speakers noted how a plethora of studies have repeatedly found that higher education for prisoners significantly reduces their likelihood of returning to prison. Indeed, a 2005 Institute for Higher Education report, titled “Learning to Reduce Recidivism,” noted how “research consistently demonstrates that participation in educational programs while incarcerated reduces recidivism rates by increasing an individual’s ability to successfully rejoin mainstream society upon release from prison.” <Read more.>

Via Jamaal Abdul-Alim, Diverse Issues in Higher Ed.