February 15, 2018

Whitehouse Joins Schatz, Colleagues in Introducing Bill to Expand Education for Incarcerated Individuals, Improve Public Safety

REAL Act would save taxpayer dollars and give millions a chance to rebuild their lives

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has joined U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and more than a dozen Democratic senators to introduce the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act, a bill to restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals, which would reduce recidivism, save taxpayer money, and protect the public’s safety.  

“No one would understand better than Senator Pell that former prisoners, who don’t have a chance to earn the skills or education they need to land a good job, too often end up back in the correctional system,” said Whitehouse.  “The REAL Act would help break the cycle of recidivism, giving people who have served their time an opportunity to become productive members of society.”

In 1994, incarcerated individuals lost access to Pell Grant assistance, causing a significant drop in the number of education programs in prisons.  The REAL Act would restore access to these grants, which would reduce recidivism and incarceration costs by increasing access to higher education.

While the national recidivism rate is 43.3 percent within three years, 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, studies have shown that each dollar spent on secondary education programs for prisoners reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three 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 amount of funding would only prevent approximately 350 crimes if invested in incarceration alone.

“We applaud the reintroduction of the Restoring Education and Learning Act, and urge Congress to move swiftly to enact this commonsense measure.  Under the current system, people of color make up a disproportionate percentage of those without a high school diploma who are incarcerated.  Instead of simply locking people up, efforts like the REAL Act would reduce recidivism and help prepare the formerly incarcerated to better contribute to their communities when they are released,” said Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The REAL Act has been endorsed by nearly 60 public safety, civil rights, and educational organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Center for American Progress, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Association of State Correctional Administrators, American Correctional Association, and the Association of State and Federal Directors of Correctional Education.


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921