Philanthropy groups and some legislators are giving college education for prisoners a fresh look, as criminal-justice policies put more emphasis on preparing inmates for life beyond bars, the Wall Street Journal reports. Public funds for college education largely dried up in the 1990s, when Congress rendered prisoners ineligible for federal Pell grants. In recent years, Doris Buffett's Sunshine Lady Foundation and the Ford Foundation have contributed millions of dollars to programs that give prisoners the chance to earn college credit. This year, the Kresge Foundation in Troy, Mi., and the Andrew Mellon Foundation awarded grants for such programs.
Buffett, whose foundation has supported prisoner education since the early 2000s, described a “surge” in support for prisoner education, adding: “It's a worthwhile use of money, and it's going to do what we want it to.” A 2013 study by the Rand Corp. found that inmates who participated in education programs, including college courses, had significantly lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who didn't. Earlier studies have also showed a strong correlation between education and lower recidivism. “There is nothing proven to be less expensive and more effective than college,” said Max Kenner of the Bard Prison Initiative, which annually enrolls nearly 300 prisoners in degree programs from Bard College in New York. Prisoners received $34 million in Pell Grants in 1993, the year before Congress made inmates ineligible for them. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in June that includes $12 million to promote statewide priorities, including college classes in state prison.