« Latest discussion of fixing timing problems with expansion of good-time credit in the FIRST STEP Act | Main | Hiring initiative highlights how private employers can take a next step after FIRST STEP Act »

January 27, 2019

"Investing in Futures: Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prison"

The title of this post is the title of this new report produced by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.  Here is how the report's introduction begins:

In 2016, more than 626,000 people were released from federal and state prisons and returned to communities across the United States.  Their odds of securing employment, housing, and other necessities after release depended, in part, on opportunities available to them while in prison.  Few such opportunities benefit incarcerated people as much as a postsecondary education — a certificate or degree beyond a high school diploma.  Most incarcerated people lack the financial resources to pay for postsecondary schooling.

Thus, the opportunity for them to earn a postsecondary credential while in prison depends in large part on public funding, which has been scarce since the mid-1990s. They face a significant failure of public policy: education is a road toward improving their lives when they leave prison that the current system makes it all but impossible to reach.

It was not always this way.

The Federal Pell Grant Program, authorized in 1972, provided financial support for education for low-income undergraduate students, including people in prison. By the early 1990s, there were more than 770 postsecondary programs in nearly 1,300 prisons.  But in 1994, as policymakers adopted more punitive approaches to the rising crime rate, Congress revoked incarcerated students’ access to Pell Grants with the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. 

For a quarter-century, people in prison have lacked a reliable or consistent funding source for postsecondary education.  This absence of funding has translated into fewer educational opportunities for incarcerated people, contributing to the challenges they face on reentry.  Because they often have limited educational attainment before entering prison, formerly incarcerated people face profound challenges in the job market without additional education and skills.  Many remain locked in a cycle of poverty and potential recidivism.  Furthermore, the negative ripple effect through the economy is significant, including fewer skilled workers available to employers and increased incarceration costs for states as a result of high recidivism rates.

This vicious cycle has affected larger numbers of people as U.S. incarceration rates have ballooned: consider that from 1972 to 2010, the prison population increased by 700 percent.  As of this writing, there are more than 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons.

In recent years, state legislatures and the federal government have taken steps to end mass incarceration and adopt a “smart-on-crime” approach to criminal justice policy that includes decriminalization, sentencing reform, and greater investments in reentry.  Despite this progress, policymakers have not yet moved to restore Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated people.  Doing so must be part of the next phase of criminal justice reform.

January 27, 2019 at 08:24 PM | Permalink


Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB