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The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced Friday (April 24) that it will expand the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative, the Vera Institute of Justice reports. The program, which allows people experiencing financial hardship and incarceration in participating states to receive need-based Pell Grants for college-level courses, currently includes 63 colleges that teach in 26 states. This expansion, as reported by Vera, “will bring the total to 130 colleges in 42 states and the District of Columbia.” 

The Second Chance Pell Experiment, which the DOE launched in 2015, allows people detained in certain states to apply for Pell grants, which are financial awards for undergraduate students with financial need. These grants are funded by the government and for the most part, don’t have to be repaid. Justice organization Vera has been working closely with correction facilities and colleges since the program launched to “ensure that the programs provide quality higher education in prison and post-release,” the organization explains on its web site. 

“The expansion of Second Chance Pell is a testament to the fact that broader access to college in prison is a strategy that works—to improve safety, strengthen communities and expand opportunity in our country,” said Nick Turner, President and Director of Vera. “We are thrilled the Department of Education has taken this important step, and Vera remains committed to working with Congress and partners across the spectrum to permanently remove the ban on Pell grants for people in prison once and for all.”

As Colorlines previously reported, postsecondary education greatly increases employment opportunities and wages for the formerly incarcerated. In January 2019, Vera and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality released a report called “Investing in Futures: Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prison.” That report outlined “the amount of money states would save if more incarcerated people were able to earn degrees, which would ultimately lead to better job opportunities and lower recidivism rates.” Unfortunately, as the report stated, most “incarcerated people lack the financial resources to pay for postsecondary schooling.” Instead, people seeking higher education mostly had to defer to public funding, which “has been scarce since the mid-1990s.”

“It’s hard to imagine a more beneficial way for people to spend time in prison than advancing their education,” said John Wetzel, Pennsylvania’s secretary of corrections. “Incarcerated students who are working toward a better future become positive role models within our facilities and return to their communities with new opportunities open to them.”

“Once we have the pandemic under control, it will be even more essential for returning citizens to be ready to join the workforce and contribute to the economy,” Wetzel added. “Broadening Second Chance Pell will certainly help us do that.”

Click here for a full list of colleges participating in the expansion of the Second Chance Pell Initiative.