Reported by Liku Zelleke
If all goes according to plan, prisoners might soon be eligible for Pell Grants to attend college while they are still in prison. The U.S. Department of Education said it is about to announce a limited exemption on the federal ban that is currently in place.
The department is expected to issue a waiver under the experimental site program, which will allow the federal government to lift certain rules that govern aid programs with the intent of testing the waters before the ban—which has been in place since 1994—can be put up for reconsideration by Congress.
According to reports, President Barack Obama’s administration supports the experiment, and it is expected to be put into action as early as this summer.
Although nothing definite can be said at the moment, one likely scenario would be for state and federal prison education programs from a few selected colleges to be made eligible for Pell Grants. Restrictions, like being eligible only if a prisoner has a certain number of years remaining before their release, could also be put in place.
What is for sure, though, is the controversy the limited experiment is going to provoke. The thought of spending tax payers’ money on college education for convicted criminals is too tempting a target for conservative pundits and some lawmakers from both political parties to overlook.
Last year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo brought forward a proposal to use state funds to support and further education programs in prison. He had to drop the idea after it was faced with fierce and instant opposition.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t stalwart proponents of the idea, especially with the current plan of action. One supporter is Steve Steurer, the executive director of the Correctional Education Association, who said, “Our association will support the reauthorization of Pell Grants for inmates. It’s a no-brainer.”
Steurer is among those who believe prisoners can be rehabilitated into educated and productive people who can “go back as workers and parents.”
Given there are far more Black men in prison than any other ethnic group, this could be a major shift in the way these men are able to provide for their families upon release.