June 30, 2016

Senators Introduce Legislation to Restore Educational Opportunity for Incarcerated Americans

Whitehouse calls Pell grant an "important stepping stone" for Americans seeking better life

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act, a bill that would restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals in order to reduce recidivism rates, lower corrections spending, and improve safety.

“Giving those in prison the opportunity to earn an education has not only proven to be a successful tool for reducing recidivism and crime, we also know it will save taxpayer money,” said Senator Schatz. “The REAL Act will provide more opportunities for people in prison to access higher education and give them a real chance to rebuild their lives.”

The REAL Act has been cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

“Education instills a sense of purpose and empowers individuals to give back to their communities in ways they never could have imagined. Restoring Pell grant eligibility for prisoners gives them a real shot of reintegrating into society and providing for their families,” said Senator Durbin. “I hope my colleagues will join us in this effort to reduce recidivism and give hope to incarcerated Americans seeking to change their lives.”

“Prisoners who get an education have a much better shot at becoming productive members of society upon release,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “To help along the way, we should restore to them one of our most important stepping stones for Americans striving for a better life—the Pell grant.”

“I am proud to join Sen. Schatz on his legislation to address the outrageously high rate of recidivism in this country,” said Senator Sanders. “People are being released from prison without the education, without the job training, without the resources they need to get their lives together, and they are ending up back in prison. By investing in jobs and education, rather than jails and incarceration, we can give people the second chance they deserve and put an end to the global embarrassment of our country locking up more people than any other nation on earth.”

In 1994, incarcerated individuals lost access to Pell Grant assistance and as a result the number of education programs in prisons fell from more than 350 in 1990 to only 12 in 2005. The REAL Act would restore access to these grants, which would reduce recidivism and incarceration costs by increasing access to higher education.

The national recidivism rate is 43.3 percent within three years, but higher education can have a dramatic impact on reducing that rate. A widely cited study conducted by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice found that higher education reduced recidivism to just 13.7 percent for formerly incarcerated individuals who earned an associate’s degree, 5.6 percent for those earning a bachelor’s degree, and less than 1 percent for those earning a master’s degree.

In addition, a study by U.S. News and World Report showed that each dollar spent on secondary education programs for prisoners reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first 3 years after an individual is released. It has been estimated that an investment of $1 million in prison education programs prevents approximately 600 crimes, while the same investment would only prevent approximately 350 crimes if invested in incarceration alone.

The REAL Act has been endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Drug Policy Alliance, Education from the Inside Out Coalition, Peace Alliance, JustLeadershipUSA, Legal Action Center, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Prison Reform News, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and National Employment Law Project.

To read the REAL Act, click here.


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