WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Education recently announced actions to help incarcerated individuals access educational programs as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s broader efforts to support reentry, empower formerly incarcerated persons, enhance public safety, and strengthen communities and the economy.
The Department has invited 73 colleges and universities to participate in the third round of the Second Chance Pell Experiment, an initiative first launched by the Obama-Biden Administration to expand access to Federal Pell Grants for incarcerated individuals enrolled in participating programs. The expansion will bring the total number of schools able to participate in the Second Chance Pell Experiment to 200. The Department is also announcing changes to policies to help incarcerated individuals with defaulted loans, including affirming that incarcerated individuals qualify for a “fresh start,” which returns borrowers with defaulted loans to repayment in good standing and allows them to access programs like the Second Chance Pell Experiment. The Department will also allow incarcerated individuals to consolidate their loans to help them exit default in the long term.
“Access to high-quality postsecondary education is essential to incarcerated individuals, but for far too long, people in prison were left out,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “The expansion of Second Chance Pell and these new pathways out of default are critical steps for incarcerated individuals to be able to access educational opportunities that will provide second chances to build a future.”
The Second Chance Pell Experiment was first established in 2015 by the Obama-Biden Administration to provide Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals to allow them to participate in postsecondary education programs. To date, students have earned over 7,000 credentials, building new skills and improving their odds of success through the initiative. The announcement of the expansion of 73 sites will mean that up to 200 programs will be able to participate in the program as the lead-up to the broader implementation of reinstatement of access to Pell Grants for incarcerated students starting on July 1, 2023.
Selected colleges and universities will partner with federal and state penal institutions in almost all 50 states to enroll thousands of incarcerated students in educational and training programs. The vast majority of selected schools are public two- and public four-year institutions. Twenty-four of the newly selected educational institutions are HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. Selected schools may begin accessing Pell Grants as early as July 1, 2022.
The Department’s announcements affirming that incarcerated individuals qualify for a “fresh start,” eliminating the impact of default on borrowers when the student loan payment pause ends, will also help more incarcerated individuals access the Second Chance Pell Experiment. Previously, incarcerated individuals interested in enrolling in the Second Chance Pell Experiment were twice as likely as the broader population to be turned away because they had defaulted loans. In addition to ensuring that incarcerated individuals benefit from the “fresh start,” the Department is also announcing a broader fix to ensure individuals have an opportunity to exit default and resume their educational journey in the long term. After Fresh Start is implemented, the Department will allow incarcerated individuals to consolidate loans to get out of default — an option available to everyone else and cut off for too long for incarcerated individuals.
Providing education in prison is proven to reduce recidivism rates and is associated with higher employment rates, which will improve public safety and allow individuals to return home to their communities and contribute to society. Moreover, a 2018 study from the RAND Corporation, funded by the Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 48% less likely to return to prison within three years than incarcerated individuals who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.
In December 2020, lawmakers expanded access to Pell Grants once again to include students who are incarcerated, as long as they are enrolled in prison education programs that are approved by their state corrections departments or the Federal Bureau of Prisons and that meet other requirements. The expansion of the Second Chance Pell Experiment will allow for opportunities to study the best practices for implementing the reinstatement of Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students, and will expand the geographic range of the programs. Expanding the experiment will also allow for a wider variety of postsecondary education programs that serve a more diverse population.
The Department intends to then fully implement the legislative changes to allow eligible students in college-in-prison programs to access Federal Pell Grants beginning on July 1, 2023.
See full list of institutions invited to participate in the third round of Second Chance Pell Experiment.