David Depuy, a twice-convicted Florida rapist, has been behind bars all but two of the last 31 years. The St. Petersburg Times reports that he began taking classes in 1973 and continued on and off until 1994, when politicians decided that giving criminals financial aid grants for college wasn’t a good idea. In 1999 Depuy and was sent to the Florida Civil Commitment Center, where 426 of the state’s worst violent sexual offenders are held because they are deemed unfit to return to society. There, he got $15,000 in federal “Pell grants” in the next four years. He is one course shy of an associate’s degree in computer systems.
The Times says that at a time when the federal Pell grant program has gone over budget by a billion dollars each of the last two years, civil commitment centers for sex offenders appear to be a loophole in the law designed to prevent incarcerated felons from getting a free ride.
In Florida, at least 54 committed sex offenders have obtained $200,000 in Pell grants in the last year. At South Florida Community College in Avon Park, inmates take television courses, including American history, economics and psychology.
The $12-billion-a-year Pell grants aid 4.9-million low-income students. Those who meet the income eligibility requirements get a grant as part of their college financial aid package.
Some say it’s wrong to give sex offenders money when so many needy students who haven’t committed crimes are struggling to go to college. “Once it is determined that you are a sexual deviant, you don’t deserve to be treated the way every other person is,” said Ron Book, a statewide advocate for victims’ rights whose daughter was sexually assaulted by her nanny for several years. “It is in effect depriving others who need Pell grants where they could use their education in a more positive manner.” Such arguments persuaded Congress to stop prisoners from getting Pell grants in 1994. At the time, 28,000 prisoners got about $36-million in Pell grants each year.