After nearly three decades, incarcerated men and women in the U.S. will again be eligible for Pell Grants, which provides federal funding for low-income students who need help paying for college. All prisoners, regardless of sentence length or convicted offense, will be eligible for Pell Grants starting next summer. Many view this change as a major step in criminal justice reform, addressing deep racial disparities in American society. For prisoners, pursuing higher education is about more than just earning a college degree. It gives them a second opportunity in life. Also, the experience of being in a classroom can be personally transformative. Kenny Butler, who is earning a college degree from inside the prison and is a recipient of one of the most widely recognized and prestigious scholarships in the world, the Fulbright Scholarship, said from the perspective of a prisoner, “A lot of us doubt ourselves in that space, if we're really educated or not. And so to sit inside a classroom with liberal arts professors and students from around the world, and it just — it does something for you. It builds confidence in yourself.” Prison education programs also bring traditional college students to classes held inside prisons, giving them a rare opportunity to become acquainted with the U.S. prison system and to hear a different point of view in a learning environment that fosters equality and mutual respect. Shannon Swain, Superintendent in Correctional Education at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, believes that education for inmates is critical for public safety, which is consistent with research showing a 43% reduction in recidivism rate among prisoners who participated in correctional education programs. As Glen Pratt, California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) Warden, puts it, “The reality is these people – these men here at CRC are going to be our neighbors, and we have to provide them with successful tools to be productive citizens when they are released.”

Read Full Story