Second Chance Pell Experiment Expands Education Behind Bars

By Shani Saxon May 22, 2019

The Department of Education (DOE) announced Monday (May 20) that it will expand the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative, which allows people experiencing financial hardship and incarceration in certain states to receive need-based Pell Grants for college-level courses.

While the government bans incarcerated people from receiving federal financial assistance, the Second Chance Pell Experiment, which the DOE launched in 2015, allows people detained in the 26 participating states to apply for Pell grants, which are financial awards for undergraduate students experiencing financial hardship. They are funded by the government and generally do not have to be repaid.

According to the DOE, there are currently 64 schools and 26 states taking part in the Second Chance Pell Experiment. Vera Institute of Justice writes in an emailed statement about the expansion that the wider scope of the program will allow “new cohorts of colleges and universities to participate and more students to enroll in postsecondary programming while in prison.” Nick Turner, president and director of Vera Institute, said in the statement, “The U.S. Department of Education’s decision to expand Second Chance Pell is an important validation of the power of postsecondary education to disrupt mass incarceration.” Turner added, “[The experiment] has proven that when barriers to postsecondary education in prison fall, enrollment rates rise, which produces better outcomes for all.”

As Colorlines previously reported, Pell Grants for incarcerated people would, “ultimately benefit students, workers, employers and states.” The Vera Institute points out that “the success of Second Chance Pell and a body of research evidence shows postsecondary education in prison reduces recidivism rates and prison expenditures while increasing public safety and economic opportunity for people after they return to the community.”

Turner says this expansion is the next step, but there is still a fight ahead. “It’s our hope that Congress will show the same commitment to expanding access to postsecondary education in prison by taking the critical step of repealing the federal ban on Pell grants for people in prison outright,” he said. “Access to postsecondary education in prison has a verified track record of creating safer communities, cutting costs and increasing economic opportunity for people and their families post-release.”