U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act, a bill that would restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals. The bipartisan legislation would cut the cycle of recidivism, save taxpayer money, and improve safety.
“When we give people in prison an opportunity to earn an education, our communities are safer, taxpayers save money, and we can end the cycle of recidivism,” Senator Schatz said. “The REAL Act would restore a program we know already works and give people a real chance to rebuild their lives.”
“The REAL Act is an important part of providing opportunity to federal offenders and reducing recidivism,” Senator Lee said. “I’m proud to be an original cosponsor.”
“The REAL Act is about breaking the cycle of recidivism by increasing access to education for incarcerated individuals. By restoring Pell Grant assistance that can fund educational programs in federal prisons, we will empower individuals to better themselves through education and find career paths once they reenter society,” Senator Durbin said.
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.
The national recidivism rate is 43.3 percent within three years, but higher education can have a dramatic impact on reducing that rate. A report found that people who participate in correctional education while in prison were 43 percent less likely to recidivate than non-participants, and 13 percent more likely to obtain employment.
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. A recent study found that states would save an average of $7.6 million in incarceration costs each year in which people in prison had access to Pell Grants while incarcerated.
Companion legislation in House of Representatives is being led by U.S. Representatives Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and French Hill (R-Ark.).
The REAL Act has been endorsed by a diverse group of stakeholders, including the Association of State Correctional Administrators, Association of State and Federal Directors of Correctional Education, American Correctional Association, Correctional Education Association, American Council on Education, Association of American Colleges and Universities, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, American Association of Community Colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, National Association for College Admission Counseling, Institute for Higher Education Policy, The Education Trust, Justice Action Network, FreedomWorks, FAMM, R Street, Prison Fellowship, Faith & Freedom Coalition, Equal Justice Initiative, Sentencing Project, Coalition for Juvenile Justice, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration, and The Law Enforcement Action Partnership.
A full list of endorsing organizations can be found here.