Civil Rights, Faith, Law Enforcement, and Justice Reform Organizations Urge Department of Education to Prioritize Pell Grant Restoration for Incarcerated Students
WASHINGTON, D.C.—On May 18, 2021, Prison Fellowship®, the nation's largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, FAMM, and several civil rights, faith, conservative, law enforcement, and justice reform organizations submitted a joint letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona asking that implementation of Pell Grant restoration for incarcerated students be an immediate Department priority.
The ACLU, College and Community Fellowship, Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities, Correctional Leaders Association, Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology, Operation Restoration, R Street Institute, Safer Foundation, and the Sentencing Project also signed the letter.
This historic criminal justice and educational reform was included as a provision in the December 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act. Although the Department of Education is granted discretion to pursue this change at an earlier date, the statute does not require the Administration to implement this policy until the 2023-24 academic year.
"In our work ministering to incarcerated men and women, Prison Fellowship has witnessed the transformative power of prison programming," said Heather Rice-Minus, Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Church Mobilization for Prison Fellowship. "Through Pell reinstatement, Congress expanded the toolkit for correctional leaders to promote constructive citizenship behind and beyond bars. We urge the Department of Education to make implementation of Pell restoration an immediate priority, and—if possible—allow for incarcerated students to access critical federal financial aid in the coming academic year."
"One of the best ways to help people in prison succeed is to provide them with access to education," said FAMM President Kevin Ring. "Congress was right to end the ban on Pell Grants, and we hope the Department of Education will move swiftly to make grants available this year."
In the 116th Congress, Prison Fellowship, FAMM, and a wide variety of business, law enforcement, faith-based, civil rights, and center-right organizations, working with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, pressed for a full lift of the Pell ban for incarcerated students to reinstate access to postsecondary education behind bars.
- An amendment to the 1994 Crime Bill made incarcerated students ineligible for Pell Grants, which led to an abrupt, dramatic decline of post-secondary education offerings in American prisons.
- Over the course of the 116th Congress, Prison Fellowship, FAMM, National District Attorneys Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other partners advocated for Pell restoration for incarcerated students. More than 60 Democratic and Republican lawmakers supported bipartisan, bicameral legislation to advance this criminal justice reform.
- Research shows that higher education in prison is a proven tool for improving public safety, workforce development, and reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Timely implementation of restoration of Pell grant eligibility would allow these offerings to expand significantly through new federal funding.