Exploring the Use of Pell Grants To Go From Prison to College

NEWARK, N.J. – Recidivism could be cut and public dollars could be saved if lawmakers lifted a longstanding federal ban on Pell grants to prisoners.

Those were some of the key arguments made at Rutgers University last week by a group of academics, criminal justice reformers and formerly incarcerated individuals in a fledgling program meant to serve as a bridge from a youth correctional facility to college.

John J. Farmer, Jr., former New Jersey attorney general and now Dean and Professor of Law at the Rutgers School of Law, called the restoration of Pell grants for prisoners “one of the most important dialogues we can have in the context of law enforcement.”

“I think that education in our prisons is the key to preventing recidivism,” Farmer said.

Farmer made his remarks Thursday at the Rutgers University Paul Robeson Campus Center during an event titled “Pell Grants and Prison Education: How Pell Grant Access in Prison Transforms Lives.”

Among those who spoke in support of lifting the ban on Pell grants to prisoners was Dallas Pell, daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, father of Pell grants.

Pell, who is founder of an organization called Pell Grants for Public Safety, said providing education for individuals in prison is a “no-brainer” and “one of the most effective tools we have to make our community safe.”

Pell and various speakers noted how a plethora of studies have repeatedly found that higher education for prisoners significantly reduces their likelihood of returning to prison. Indeed, a 2005 Institute for Higher Education report, titled “Learning to Reduce Recidivism,” noted how “research consistently demonstrates that participation in educational programs while incarcerated reduces recidivism rates by increasing an individual’s ability to successfully rejoin mainstream society upon release from prison.” The paper also recommends restoration of Pell grants for prisoners.

While academic support for education in correctional settings is easy to find, political will to lift the federal ban on Pell grants to prisoners has been more difficult to garner.

Farmer said toward the end of his stint as New Jersey Attorney General from 1999 to 2002, he tried to sponsor legislation that would provide for increased educational opportunities for prisoners in order to make it easier for them to reenter society.

“At the time there just was no traction among the political people to pass legislation like this,” Farmer said.

The group that organized Thursday’s discussion – The Education from the Inside Out Coalition – has faced similar challenges.

Over the past few years, the organization has approached key members of Congress and, more recently, officials at the U.S. Department of Education in an attempt to get them to reverse the 1994 ban on Pell grants for incarcerated individuals.

Each time, those involved in the effort say, they leave the table with the idea that they must first build broad public support before any official will take the issue on.

Beyond politics, the Pell grant program faces a $6 billion shortfall for the 2014-2015 school year.

Glenn Martin, vice president at The Fortune Society, an advocacy group that works on prisoner reentry issues, dismissed the $6 billion shortfall for the Pell grant program as a distraction in the discussion about restoring Pell grants to prisoners. He said the Pell grant program has faced shortfalls before and Congress has always found ways to fill them.

Asked what the actual dollar increase would be if Pell grants to prisoners were restored, Dallas Pell cited a statistic that showed that prisoners represented a fraction of a percent of all Pell grant recipients.

Proponents of Pell grants for prisoners argue that irrespective of the cost, society will pay more to incarcerate individuals than it would to educate prisoners and thereby lessen their likelihood of returning to prison.

To bolster their case, they cited studies, for instance, such as “Prison vs. Princeton,” which showed that it costs $44,000 to incarcerate one prisoner for a year in New Jersey, whereas the cost to attend Princeton University is $37,000 per year.

Another report by the Correctional Association of New York found  “lopsided” spending on prison versus education, specifically, $44,000 per year to house prisoners versus $7,645 per full-time student within the State University of New York system.

“The cost differences in education versus incarceration in New York, plus the short- and long-term benefits of a better educated population, makes investment in higher education for incarcerated individuals and people in the community smart fiscal policy,” the report states.

Todd Clear, dean of the school of criminal justice at Rutgers, said educating inmates is the most effective thing that can be done to reduce recidivism.

“Everything else comes in second or later,” Clear said.

Panelist Walter Fortson, 27, a former inmate at Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility who is now a graduating senior at Rutgers -- said he gets questioned all the time about the fact that he was granted a $30,000 Harry S. Truman Scholarship. Fortson – who served time for selling crack cocaine -- eventually got involved in a program at Mountainview that helps inmates there gain admission to Rutgers.

In online comments about various articles that have been written about transformation from convicted drug dealer to scholarship-winning student at Rutgers, Fortson said, “people would say, ‘This isn’t fair. I’m paying off loans that I’ve been paying for the last (several) years, and they give this felon a scholarship,’” said Fortson, who is founding president of the Mountainview Student Organization.

“But I will never go back to prison,” said Fortson, who plans to go on to graduate school to study public affairs. “And that’s something you would have paid $50,000 a year for every year I was there. What would you prefer?” Vivian Nixon, leader of The Education from the Inside Out Coalition and executive director of the College and Community Fellowship, a group that works on reentry issues for women with criminal convictions, said there are reasons to support education for prisoners that transcend the public cost.

“Education isn’t a social service program,” Nixon said. “It’s a fundamental human right. It’s essential in order to achieve other rights.”

To those who examine the issue in terms of costs, Nixon said, “You can’t put a price tag on hope.”

Photo courtesy of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition.

Funding Opportunity: Become a Reclaiming Futures Site

Reclaiming Futures announced that the DOJ, OJP and OJJDP are seeking applications for $1.325 million in funding (over 4 years) to spread and implement the Reclaiming Futures model. More specifically, grants will be given to build the capacity of states, courts, local governments and Indian tribal governments to develop and establish Reclaiming Futures' juvenile drug courts.

From the request for proposals:

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is pleased to announce that it is seeking applications for funding under the FY 2012 Juvenile Drug Courts/Reclaiming Futures program. This program furthers the Department’s mission by building the capacity of states, state and local courts, units of local government, and Indian tribal governments to develop and establish juvenile drug courts for substance abusing juvenile offenders.

For more information and to apply, please click here. The deadline to apply is May 16, 2012, at 11:59 ET.

Grants for Chemistry Teachers With Innovative Ideas

American Chemical Society will be awarding grants of up to $1,500. The ACS-Hach High School Chemistry Grant is awarded to U.S. high school chemistry teachers to support ideas that transform classroom learning, foster student development and reveal the wonders of chemistry.

Applications are accepted annually February 1 – April 1. Applicants for the 2012-2013 award cycle will be notified of their status by June 30, 2012. 

In the past, awards have been given for laboratory equipment, instructional materials, professional development and field studies.


New York Road Runners Offering Grants

New York Road Runners (NYRR) seeks to make running a part of every child's school day by providing free running programs and resources to schools and communities in New York City and across the country. This school year, NYRR is excited to launch Events to Run, the latest resource from its suite of free youth running programs and teaching tools.

To celebrate this launch, NYRR will award a total of $20,000 worth of grants to schools and non-profits to help support youth running and fitness events. There will be 40 grants of $500 each awarded to schools or organizations in the U.S. Award recipients will be selected by NYRR based upon its evaluation of the comparative merits of the applications submitted for the awards, and NYRR's decisions will be final.

All applications must be submitted by 5 pm EST on Monday, February 13, 2012.

Department of Education Offers ‘CAMP’ Grants

The Federal Department of Education is accepting applications for its College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP).

The purpose of CAMP is to provide academic and financial support to help migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their children complete their first year of college and continue in postsecondary education.

The Obama administration has requested more than $3 million for this program for FY 2012, but the funding depends on congressional approval. The estimated range of awards is from $180,000 to $425,000.

Deadline for Transmittal of Applications: January 18, 2012.

Planet Connect Offers Grants to High Schoolers

Planet Connect is offering high school students grants of $1,000 to implement their problem-solving projects and participate in a local internship focused on wildlife conservation.

Winners will be provided $500.00 to turn their projects into reality. After completing their projects in June, winners will participate in an 80-hour wildlife conservation or natural resource internship in their local community during the summer of 2012.  At the end of the internship they will be awarded a $500.00 stipend.

National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, invites applications for the 2012 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards.

Winning programs this year will receive $10,000 and an invitation to accept their award from the President’s Committee’s Honorary Chairman, First Lady Michelle Obama at a ceremony at the White House.

After-school and out-of-school time arts and humanities programs sponsored by museums, libraries, performing arts organizations; educational institutions (e.g., preschools; elementary, middle, and high schools; universities; and colleges), arts centers, community service organizations, businesses, and eligible government entities are encouraged to consider submitting an application. Programs applying for the award must meet all of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award’s Eligibility Criteria.

Completed applications will only be accepted via the online process. No hard copy materials will be accepted. The deadline for application submissions is Tuesday, January 31, 2012, 5:00 p.m. EST.

Innovations in Reading Prize, 2012

Each year, the National Book Foundation awards a number of prizes of up to $2,500 each to individuals and institutions — or partnerships between the two — that have developed innovative means of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading.

All materials must be postmarked by 
Tuesday, February 21, 2012.

Details about the complete application process are available in the Application Form, which can be downloaded below.

  • PDF Application form to be filled out by hand and faxed or mailed to the Foundation. Download >
  • PDF Application form to be filled out on your computer using Adobe Acrobat and emailed to the Foundation. Download >

RMYF Grants to Evaluative Innovative Programs for At-Risk Youth

The Ruddie Memorial Youth Foundation | RMYF logoThe Ruddie Memorial Youth Foundation (RMYF) offers Evaluation Grants for first time applicants to assess the successfulness of innovative programs or innovative components of programs that serve disadvantaged youth.

This is the only grant available to first-time applicants with RMYF. Grants range between $5,000-$25,000 and MUST focus on evaluating an innovative program. Successful completion of the grant terms opens the possibility of future funding.

Grant applications are reviewed annually. Deadline is July 18, 2012. Grant recipients will be announced in November 2012.

Students Hit the Road with Road Scholarship

the whole world in my handsSince 2002 the SYTA Youth Foundation (SYF) has offered grants up to $1,000 for qualifying students in need of financial assistance for educational and group travel. SYF is a sister organization of the Student & Youth Travel Association.

To qualify applicants must be younger than 25, participating in some sort of student or youth group travel and demonstrate a need for financial assistance. Visit the website for a complete list of requirements.

Between 40-60 grants are issued be four-month funding cycle. The average grant totals $600, but may be as much as $1000.

Next deadline is November 30, 2011. Successful grantees will be announced in mid-January.