Washington, D.C. (April 16) – The R Street Institute applauds the introduction of the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL Act) introduced last week by Senators Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. The REAL Act would restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals, thereby expanding educational opportunity in prisons and reducing recidivism.

Pell Grants provide students with financial aid for college. However, the tough-on-crime approach of the 1990s led to the elimination of Pell Grant eligibility for prisoners in 1994. Without financial support from these grants, the number of postsecondary education programs within prisons plummeted from 772 to just 8 within three years.

Recent programs of the U.S. Department of Education have allowed some colleges to pilot the use of Pell Grants for postsecondary education in correctional facilities. Two years into this experiment, results have been promising. The REAL Act would take necessary action to expand postsecondary education programming for prisoners nationwide.

According to R Street Criminal Justice Government Affairs Specialist Jesse Kelley, postsecondary education is one of the most successful interventions for improving safety both inside and outside of prison.

“The vast majority of incarcerated individuals will one day be reintroduced to our communities, and we need to do more to prepare them for life beyond prison walls,” Kelley said. “Restoring federal aid in the form of Pell Grants is a commonsense way to provide much-needed educational programming to incarcerated individuals. The REAL Act would help us move toward an approach that embraces redemption, compassion and second chances, providing a better investment for taxpayers and improving the whole of society.”