It’s possible that educational Pell grants will be given to prisoners again on a limited basis. They were awarded in the past, but during the Clinton administration there was a change in policy and those grants to inmates were eliminated. I was recently speaking with a friend about how the education of an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated person can change the direction of that person’s life for the better.
A case in point is my friend Sean Thompson-El, a 50-year-old Returning Citizen who was released five years ago. Upon his release in 2011, Sean immediately began pursuing his five-year plan, which included Graduate School at The University of Illinois in Chicago, where he is pursuing his degree in Criminology Law and Justice. He’s just completed his first year.
In 1992, while incarcerated, Sean obtained his associate’s degree in Liberal Arts through Mineral Area College. In 2013, two years after he was released, Sean obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Professional Studies, with a major in Criminal Justice through Roosevelt University. After graduating with his Bachelor’s Degree, Sean Thompson-El was determined to take his education to the next level. “I felt like a Bachelor’s Degree was not enough because as an ex-offender we have so many strikes against us.” With a graduate degree, Sean is on better footing when competing with other candidates in the global economy.
When asked about the government possibly revising the 1994 ban on Pell Grants that prevents incarcerated individuals from receiving federal aid for college, Sean replied: “That’s the best thing that could possibly be done for people who are incarcerated. That is how I was able to get my Associates Degree. The fact is, most of the people in prison will be released and they need to obtain an education and marketable skills to compete in the workforce upon release.”
According to Steve Steurer, Executive Director of the Correctional Education Association, “It’s a no-brainer.” In fact, recently in “Bringing back Pell for Prisoners” by Paul Fain, Steve Steurer, stated, “Our association will support the reauthorization of Pell Grants for inmates.” For those who object to reinstating Pell Grants for prisoners to obtain a higher education, I would encourage them to consider the potential cost savings that will result. By allowing inmates to partake in educational programs, the U.S. can cut the recidivism rate in half. Affording inmates an opportunity to receive a higher education can ultimately increase public safety and help curb mass incarceration.
It’s easy to see the positive impact that education is having on Sean Thompson-El, a repeat offender who was once deemed incorrigible. His recent Facebook post reads: I completed my first year of grad school and it was one of the most labor intensive things that I have ever experienced. It wasn’t really difficult, but it was very time consuming. The readings alone consumed four to five hours daily. The research papers, class discussions and presentations took me on a roller coaster ride, but I loved it. I enjoyed the highs and the lows. My professors were brilliant and my classmates were the coolest group of people. I learned so much in what seems like a short period of time. This summer I have an independent study/internship and I’m working with a project known as Cease Fire here in Chicago in an effort to help curb gang violence. Next year this time I will be graduating from Graduate School; then, I plan to hit the ground running.