The future of a college education and vocational training for those incarcerated is now uncertain. The Trump administration and Congress is now threatening to ban inmates from receiving Pell grants, which help low-income students pay for college and fund prison education, The Marshall Project reports.
In 1994, the government banned inmates from being recipients of the program. Both the Democratic and Republican parties deemed getting an education or rehabilitation wasn’t the answer—primarily because it would hurt the pockets of taxpayers.
“Certainly there is an occasional success story, but when virtually every prisoner in America is eligible for Pell grants, national priorities and taxpayers lose,” former Tennessee Democrat Rep. Bart Gordon said in '94.
In 2015, former President Barack Obama approved a program that granted thousands of prisoners access to Pell grants. The program which is a mix of both college and trade courses is housed in 69 sites across 27 states. Now, the initiative is set to expire in 2018, and Congress has yet to make up its mind whether or not to continue with the program, which puts 4,000 incarcerated Pell recipients in jeopardy.
Betsy DeVos, the education secretary under the Trump administration reportedly stated that "obviously the department is not real involved with criminal justice reform issues," but the Pell grant initiative may be "a very good and interesting possibility.”
Amid the uncertainty, statistics prove that educational programs for the prison population prevent re-incarceration. A study that was funded by the Department of Justice in 2013 by RAND found that inmates who received an education while in prison were 43 percent less likely to go back.
Those who benefit from the program state how helpful it has been. Marcus Lily, a former prisoner who spent 13 years in prison for an attempted murder charge in Baltimore expressed the significance of his college education.
“College gave me a more positive outlook on myself,” he said. “I realized I didn't have to be what everyone in my community told me when I was growing up. My classes opened up a new world outside of East Baltimore.”