April 09, 2019

Rep. Barbara Lee and Bipartisan Group Introduce Legislation to Improve Reentry and Economic Growth by Restoring Pell Grants for Incarcerated Individuals

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), Rep. French Hill (R-AR), and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) introduced landmark legislation to strengthen successful reentry and economic growth by restoring Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals. The bipartisan and bicameral Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act of 2019 expands educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals, which research shows has tremendous effectiveness and saves taxpayer dollars. Over 50 progressive and conservative organizations support this legislation. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Mike Lee (R-UT) lead the bill in the Senate.

A recent report from the Vera Institute and the Georgetown University Center on Poverty and Integrity, entitled Investing in Futures: Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prison, found:

  • 64 percent of people ages 18-74 who are incarcerated in federal and state prison had, at most, a high school degree or equivalent between the years 2012 and 2014;
  • The majority of incarcerated people are academically eligible to advance to post-secondary level courses;
  • Expanding access to education in prison would result in a $45.3 million increase in combined earnings for formerly incarcerated workers during the first year after release; and
  • More access to education would result in decreased recidivism rates, saving states a combined $365.8 million per year on incarceration costs.

“To ensure that formerly incarcerated individuals have the tools they need to be productive members of society, we must see education as a right that can create a path to a better life for them,” said Rep. Lee.  “The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that will expand access to Pell Grants in federal and state penal institutions, reduce costs for taxpayers, help address the recidivism crisis, and empower those who have made a mistake to rebuild their lives. The REAL Act represents real reform, and I am proud to help lead the bipartisan effort to pass it. This legislation is a great step towards addressing the economic and social realities that drive mass incarceration, especially in communities of color.”

“Restoring Pell Grants to the incarcerated is a bipartisan effort because it strengthens communities, improves reentry, promotes economic well-being, increases labor force participation, and meets workforce demands” said Rep. Davis. “Permanent restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for the incarcerated is a smart federal investment that makes communities safer and our country stronger while reducing taxpayer costs.”

“The vast majority of prisoners will eventually be released,” said Rep. Banks. “Our society is better and safer if we equip inmates with the resources necessary to become productive citizens and not re-enter the criminal justice system. This bipartisan effort will reduce crime, grow jobs and save the government money. I am proud to be a part of it.”

“Federal Pell Grants were created to ensure that all Americans have the ability to better themselves through educational opportunities,” said Rep. Hill. “Giving incarcerated individuals the opportunity to choose a path of education will serve as an investment in central Arkansas. Education leads to better choices and accountability that can help break the cycle of criminal behavior in low-income communities.”