The Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality released a new report on Wednesday (January 16) called, “Investing in Futures: Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prison.” The research details how lifting the ban on giving incarcerated people federal Pell Grants would ultimately benefit students, workers, employers and states. Pell Grants are financial awards given to undergraduate students experiencing financial hardship. They are funded by the government and generally do not have to be repaid.

Many, from corrections officers to college administrators, have worked to create postsecondary education programs in prisons. This report outlines 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. However, most “incarcerated people lack the financial resources to pay for postsecondary schooling,” the report states. Instead, those who seek a higher education have to rely on public funding, which “has been scarce since the mid-1990s.”

The report yielded the following findings: 

  • Most people in prison are eligible for, but are not provided with the resources for, a postsecondary education.
  • Postsecondary education in prison increases employment and earnings for formerly incarcerated people.
  • Postsecondary education in prison provides workers with valuable skills that employers need.
  • Greater access to postsecondary education in prison can reduce state prison spending overall. 

While the federal government has taken steps toward prison reform with measures like the FIRST STEP Act, it has not restored Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated people. Advocates hope this change will be included in the next phase of criminal justice reform.