Rep. Sherrill Testifies in Front of the Dept. of Education on the Implementation of Pell Grant Eligibility for Students in Prison Education Programs

Rep. Sherrill Testifies in Front of the Dept. of Education on the Implementation of Pell Grant Eligibility for Students in Prison Education Programs

 

Washington, DC –– Representative Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) appeared today in front of the Department of Education to testify in support of the swift implementation of Pell Grant eligibility for students in prison education programs, which passed last Congress.

Last year, legislation to lift the ban on Pell Grant eligibility for students in prison and put guardrails in place to ensure these students do not fall prey to a subpar or predatory educational provider was signed into law. Repealing the Pell ban would save states an estimated total of $365.8 million per year as a result of reduced recidivism rates and lowered reincarceration spending. Under this law, the Department of Education has until July 2023 to implement the new policies, which has not yet been completed.

“When I worked as an Outreach and Reentry Coordinator in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I saw firsthand the extraordinary impact access to education has on an individual,” said Rep. Sherrill. “Studies show access to a good education improves reentry and post-release outcomes and lowers recidivism. It can completely turn someone’s life around. I testified today before the Department of Education to make the case that there is no reason to wait to reinstate eligibility for Pell Grants and quality education protections for students in prison. It will better the lives of thousands of Americans, better our communities, and save our states money.”

Earlier in her career, Rep. Sherrill served as an Outreach and Reentry Coordinator in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, where she helped establish the state’s first federal reentry program for individuals leaving federal prison.

Full written remarks included here:

Good afternoon. I’m Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, member of the House Education and Labor Committee and am here today to focus on the Department’s implementation of Pell Grant eligibility for students in prison education programs. 

Last session, Congress reinstated Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals and set parameters for Pell-eligible prison education programs, including a number of guardrails designed to ensure the quality of such programs. 

I’m thrilled that Congress stepped up and made this a reality. I am looking forward to the important work that needs to be done to make sure these programs serve students well.

I’m thankful that the law passed by Congress includes early implementation provisions that allow the Department to implement Pell restoration quickly and efficiently. 

But, while the law was passed last year, the ban has yet to be fully lifted. I’m here today to urge you to prioritize Pell Grant restoration and to lift the ban as quickly as possible.

Until Pell Grants are restored, more than 400,000 eligible students in prison will remain locked out of higher education opportunities. 

In my career, in addition to being an Assistant US Attorney, I worked as an Outreach and Re-entry Coordinator in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, where I worked to help establish the state’s first federal reentry program for individuals leaving our federal prisons. I’ve seen the best these programs have to offer, and unfortunately, the detrimental result when they’re not offered.

I’m here today to urge you, as a mother, former member of the US Attorney’s office, and a Member of Congress who voted to lift the ban to act swiftly and deliberately to implement Pell Grants for students who are incarcerated this year. I further urge you to ensure that as you work to implement this policy you establish safeguards to protect the quality and integrity of these programs. 

Currently, a vast majority of incarcerated adults don’t have access to post secondary opportunities. The majority of people who are incarcerated don’t complete an education program while in prison. But low rates of participation do not reflect low demand for higher education. A 2014 survey found that 70 percent of incarcerated adults wanted to enroll in an educational program.  Among those who wanted to pursue further education, 69 percent expressed a desire to earn a postsecondary certificate or degree. 

We must do better to ensure these individuals have access to the educational opportunities they seek. 

Further, restoring Pell eligibility for incarcerated students can improve reentry and post-release outcomes, resulting in significant return-on-investment and contributing to safer communities. Higher education is proven to reduce recidivism and improve the employment of justice-involved individuals.

Researchers estimate that employment rates among all formerly-incarcerated individuals would rise by 2.1 percent if just half of the eligible prison population participated in a prison education program. Incarcerated students who participate in correctional education programs were found to be 28% less likely to recidivate than non-participants. Repealing the Pell ban would save states an estimated total of $365.8 million per year as a result of reduced recidivism rates and lowered reincarceration spending.  

Finally, I’d like to talk about safeguards. Thoughtful policy approaches are needed to address the barriers and nuances inherent in the correctional environment. 

First, incarcerated students are not able to choose from a range of postsecondary options in an open marketplace. If a subpar or predatory provider is the only option available, incarcerated students will be put at a significant risk of exploitation. 

Further, incarcerated students should be given the same opportunities to pursue rigorous academic programs, learn from qualified faculty, and earn college credits and degrees as students who attend classes on the outside. 

Lastly, completing the FAFSA can be particularly challenging for incarcerated students due to a range of factors including lack of access to tax records, inability to register for the Selective Service, and difficulty rehabilitating defaulted federal loans.

The Department must address these issues related to program integrity, quality, and access in order to ensure that both students and taxpayers are protected when Pell Grant eligibility for students who are incarcerated is fully restored and prison education programs are expanded. 

I welcome the opportunity to continue this conversation with the Department to ensure the efficient and timely implementation of Pell Grant eligibility for students in prison education programs. 

Thank you for having me today to provide this testimony. 

 

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