Author of Illegal to Legal:
Business Success for (ex) Criminals
I’m sure you’ve heard about President Obama’s recent announcement where he discussed reinstating Pell Grants for inmates. I greatly support this, and believe reinstating Pell Grants could significantly impact recidivism, and help ex-offenders have greater chances of succeeding upon release.
The truth is starting over after release is, in my opinion, just as hard as or harder than serving time. Everyone knows it’s very difficult finding good paying jobs with a felony conviction. I wrote “Illegal to Legal” to give people an alternative income source instead of relying on low paying jobs or reverting to crime. Pell Grants could allow inmates to use their time to educate themselves and prepare for successful release.
Obama’s officials said research proves that correctional education helps reduce the likelihood that prisoners will commit crimes again after they are released. This ultimately saves taxpayers money. “America is a nation of second chances,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Giving people who have made mistakes in their lives a chance to get back on track and become contributing members of society is fundamental to who we are – it can also be a cost-saver for taxpayers.”
Don’t think that all inmates will have access to Pell Grants anytime soon. Inmates have been banned from receiving Pell Grants for over twenty years, and President Obama’s action did not lift that ban. Instead, Obama described his new program as a “limited experiment” that will start late 2016. This experiment will be called the “Second Chance Pell Pilot Program.” It aims to help prisoners work toward an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree while incarcerated. Grants will be eligible for certain inmates who are within five years of release. Details of this new program have not been announced, except to state that the program will be a fraction of the current Pell Grant program, and that no funds from other Pell Grants will be used.
President Obama’s announcement heralds progress. While I’m hopeful Pell Grants will be reinstated, eventually, the truth is the only thing it seems our government has done is to announce the President’s intentions. Obama didn’t even announce the number of inmates, or the institutions, that can participate. Not to be pessimistic, but this scares me. While that program is much bigger, look at how long it took our government to get the healthcare exchange website functioning, and at what cost? I am doubtful our government can devise and implement the systems, procedures, guidelines, institutions or curriculums in place for even this “limited experiment” to roll out next year. I do hope my concerns prove to be unfounded, and I wish our President great success in this endeavor.
The bottom-line on Pell Grants is that you should keep the faith, but don’t hold your breath.
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“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” -Ernest Hemingway
Lynn Springer, Founding Advocate, Innocent Spouse & Children Project
George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
Jim Gabal, Development
Babz Rawls Ivy, Media Contact
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