Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said he was open to re-examining Pell grants for prisoners, which were banned in the 1994 crime law passed under President Bill Clinton. If reinstated, millions of dollars would be made available to eligible students in the prison population of 1.5 million.
The U.S. Senate’s top leaders on education policy will consider reinstating Pell grants for incarcerated students, a move that would restore a federal lifeline to the nation’s cash-strapped prison education system, the New York Times reports. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the panel would consider reinstating the federal financial aid grants in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act currently underway. The move would reverse a decades-old decision to strike the benefit from the higher education law and signal a shift toward recognizing education in efforts to overhaul criminal justice law. The federal student aid could be used to cover the cost of college courses taught in prisons, online or both.
Alexander said that he was open to re-examining Pell grants for prisoners, which were banned in the 1994 crime law passed under President Bill Clinton. In 2015, President Barack Obama’s Education Department piloted an experimental program that allowed 12,000 incarcerated students to be eligible for the financial aid. If reinstated, millions of dollars would be made available to eligible students in the prison population of 1.5 million. “Most prisoners, sooner or later, are released from prison, and no one is helped when they do not have the skills to find a job,” Alexander said. “Making Pell grants available to them in the right circumstances is a good idea.” The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), introduced Pell grant legislation last year that would expand the financial aid — which currently supplies about eight million low-income students with up to $5,920 yearly — to include inmates, undocumented immigrants and students with drug offenses.