For Many, Second Chance Pell Offers a First Chance Opportunity

For Many Second Chance Pell Offers A First Chance Opportunity Full
Vera staffers, college administrators, corrections officials, formerly incarcerated people, and Department of Education staffers discuss the Second Chance Pell Initiative. Credit: U.S. Department of Education
For many who are incarcerated, access to education has been fraught with obstacles for too long.

Vera also co-hosted a Second Chance Pell listening session on April 5 with the U.S. Department of Education, gathering representatives from SCP sites to discuss what’s working well and what could be improved if postsecondary education in prison programs are expanded. Secretary Betsy DeVos provided the opening remarks – and even took to Twitter afterwards to reaffirm her support for postsecondary education in prison.

Overwhelmingly, site participants at the meeting said that increased access to education in prison was necessary, impactful, and transformative. One important point that emerged—and was expressed by several attendees—is the fact that for many incarcerated people, access to education in prison was not a second chance: it was a first chance.

Despite the positives shared, there are many challenges in implementation that students and administrators of these programs face. One of the biggest complaints mentioned was regarding difficulties around FAFSA. Other suggestions included expansion of SCP to those serving extended or life sentences, reduction of security barriers created by state Department of Corrections, more intentionality on who is encouraged to participate in the programs (particularly more racial diversity), and funding that goes beyond Pell grants.

Fred Patrick, Director of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections, offered this message of hope for the future of college programs in prison at the end of the Listening Session: “The people in this room can enact and influence so much change – our brains and hearts together give us no excuse to not overcome the challenges addressed today.”

These conversations represent what many hope is a new beginning for Second Chance Pell and for the possibility of expanding access to Pell grants for people in state and federal prisons. With the introduction of the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act on April 9—which has bipartisan support—these discussions on implementing high-quality postsecondary education in prison are particularly profound and timely.