Mike Lee introduces bipartisan legislation to restore Pell Grant eligibility to prison inmates

Composite image. Public domain image of Utah Sen. Mike Lee overlaid on photo by tapui/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — Utah Sen. Mike Lee, along with Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the Restoring Education and Learning Act on Tuesday, a bill that would restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals.

According to a press statement from the Offices of Mike Lee, the bipartisan legislation would cut the cycle of recidivism, save taxpayer money and improve safety.

In 1994, incarcerated individuals lost access to Pell Grant assistance, causing a significant drop in the number of education programs in prisons. The REAL Act would restore access to these grants, which would reduce recidivism and incarceration costs by increasing access to higher education.

“The REAL Act is an important part of providing opportunity to federal offenders and reducing recidivism,” Lee said in the statement. “I’m proud to be an original cosponsor.”

The national recidivism rate is 43.3 percent within three years of release, but higher education can have a dramatic impact on reducing that rate. A report from the Rand Corporation found that people who participate in correctional education while in prison were 43 percent less likely to recidivate than nonparticipants, and they were 13 percent more likely to obtain employment.

In addition, studies have shown that each dollar spent on secondary education programs for prisoners reduces incarceration costs by $4-$5 during the first three years after an individual is released. A recent study found that states would save an average of $7.6 million in incarceration costs each year in which people in prison had access to Pell Grants while incarcerated.

Schatz said that the REAL Act would restore a program that “we know already works and give people a real chance to rebuild their lives.”

“When we give people in prison an opportunity to earn an education, our communities are safer, taxpayers save money, and we can end the cycle of recidivism,” Schatz said in the press statement.

Durbin echoed these sentiments.

“By restoring Pell Grant assistance that can fund educational programs in federal prisons, we will empower individuals to better themselves through education and find career paths once they reenter society,” he said.

Companion legislation in House of Representatives is being led by U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, D-Ill.; Jim Banks, R-Ind.; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; and French Hill, R-Ark.

The REAL Act has been endorsed by a diverse group of stakeholders, including several correctional, education and human rights organizations. A full list of endorsing organizations can be found here.

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