NAICU Washington Update

Restoration of Pell Grants for Prisoners Gaining Momentum

May 29, 2015

Initiatives to restore Pell Grant eligibility for students incarcerated in U.S. prisons are gaining momentum in Congress and at the Department of Education. Congress passed legislation banning federal student aid to incarcerated students in 1994.

The renewed efforts are based on research which concluded that providing education and employment opportunities to prisoners deters recidivism. Supporters assert that the cost of providing Pell Grants to eligible prisoners is both relatively small and a good social and financial investment.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), supported by a small group of Democrats, introduced the Restoring Education and Learn (REAL) Act (H.R. 2521) on May 21, 2015. The legislation, with 17 co-sponsors, would reinstate Pell eligibility for most prisoners.

At the same time, the Department of Education is expected to announce this summer a waiver to the current ban that would provide Pell Grants to eligible college students in prisons through the Experimental Sites Initiative, which tests the effectiveness of statutory and regulatory flexibility for participating institutions disbursing Title IV student aid.

In addition, the Education Department issued guidance last December to clarify that individuals in juvenile facilities were already eligible for Pell Grants because the current ban is only on those incarcerated in federal or state penal institutions. At the time, the Administration estimated that roughly 4,000 of the 60,000 incarcerated juvenile offenders would be eligible for federal aid. It also estimated that it costs an average of $88,000 per year to incarcerate a juvenile offender, while the Pell Grant maximum award for 2015-16 is $5,775.

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