New Program Would Give Some Prisoners Money For College

Photo: REX USA
If prisoners can get educated while they're serving time, statistics show they're much less likely to end up back behind bars. That's the idea behind the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program — an experimental concept that'll give prisoners Pell grants to pay for college while they're incarcerated. The Obama administration announced the move on Friday, saying it aims at helping convicts "get jobs, support their families, and turn their lives around" once they're freed.

Of course, a lot of people hate the idea. “The Obama administration’s plan to put the cost of a free college education for criminals on the backs of the taxpayers is consistent with their policy of rewarding lawbreakers while penalizing hardworking Americans,” said Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York.

Collins is also one of three lawmakers behind the Kids Before Cons Act, which was introduced on July 29, in direct response to the Second Chance program. "Basically, the idea is: Why would you throw money at criminals when you can be funding better education for kids so they don’t end up there in the first place?" said Michael McAdams, Rep. Collins' communications director. Kids Before Cons aims to close a loophole contained within the Higher Education Act (HEA), established in 1994 with a goal of keeping former prisoners of federal and state institutions from having access to federal Pell Grants.

Pell grants are not loans, so they do not have to be repaid, and have traditionally been available only to college students pursuing an undergraduate degree, with some exceptions. Extending them to prisoners and former prisoners has been a hot-button topic, with the argument being that tax dollars shouldn't be spent on educating people who have broken the law, and that providing them with this avenue of opportunity does little to de-incentivize crime.

The Second Chance Pell Pilot Program restores the opportunity for some incarcerated citizens to receive these grants — as well as, hopefully, an education that will help them become more productive and contributing members of their communities. America has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world; this program explores a path for capping and reducing that statistic.

Currently, no further information on the length of the pilot program, or who will be eligible for the grants, has been released; as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "Stay tuned."

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