More Post-Secondary Education for Inmates Would ‘Cut Recidivism, Reduce Poverty’

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Restoring access to Pell Grants for post-secondary education in prison would also increase employment rates among formerly incarcerated people across the United States by nearly 10 percent, says a new study.

Providing opportunities for post-secondary education for prisoners is also likely to reduce recidivism rates and save an estimated $365.5 million a year in incarceration costs for states, concluded a study released jointly Wednesday by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.

The so-called Pell grants to post-secondary education programs in prison were sharply scaled back by Congress in 1994 in a reflection of  “tough-on-crime” attitudes that perceived such grants as coddling of criminals.

But the study says that research shows that giving inmates access to post-secondary education is critical to reducing mass incarceration, lowering recidivism rates and ensuring public safety.

“This relic of the ‘tough-on-crime’ era has resulted in long-term negative consequences for all of us…as well as lost economic potential for individuals, families, and communities,” said Vera Institute president Nick Turner,, and Georgetown Center director Peter Edelman in their introduction to the study.

“It’s time we repeal the ban and create a more restorative justice system that increases safety and produces better and more cost-effective outcomes for everyone d break the cycle of poverty that comes with it. “

The study found that 64 percent of incarcerees in federal and state prisons had achieved a GED or high school diploma, making them academically eligible to enroll in a postsecondary education program.

Some limited post-secondary education is available through the the federal Second Chance Pell program, but  only 9 percent of incarcerated people completed a postsecondary program while beind bars in 2014, the latest year for which data is available.

The study estimated that if the congressional ban were lifted, about 463,000 incarcerated people would be eligible for Pell Grants.

The study was prepared by Patrick Oakford, Cara Brumfield, Casey Goldvale, and Laura Tatum of the  Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality; and Margaret diZerega and Fred Patrick of the Vera Institute of Justice.

The full study is available here.

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