Feds Set to Bring Back College Grants for Prisoners
Inmates lost access to Pell grants 20 years ago
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 28, 2015 5:41 AM CDT
An inmate uses the recreation room of one of the housing units at Sacramento County's Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove, Calif.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

(Newser) – The Obama administration is planning to restore access to federal college subsidies for a huge number of Americans who have a lot of time on their hands. Congress banned inmates at the state and federal level from receiving Pell grants in 1994, but Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he'll have an "important announcement" to make when he visits a Maryland prison this week, reports Politico. The administration will be able to temporarily lift the ban without going through Congress by treating the restoration of grants as an experiment in reducing re-offending rates, reports the Wall Street Journal, which notes that prisoners received $34 million in Pell grants in 1993.

Pell grants are worth up to $5,775 a year, which Rep. Donna Edwards, co-sponsor of a bill to permanently restore the grants to prisoners, notes is a lot less than the $40,000 or so it costs to keep an inmate behind bars for a year. "We haven't really been able to get a handle on recidivism," the Democrat tells the Journal. "We have to present some training and opportunities. These are programs that work." The prison population has doubled in the 20 years since the grants were removed, and the bill's co-sponsors say inmates who take part in education programs are 43% less likely to end up back in prison, Politico notes. (This month, President Obama became the first sitting president to visit a prison.)