Research suggests that education is key to improving many long-term outcomes for incarcerated people, their families, and their communities—including reducing recidivism and increasing employability and earnings after release. To improve the lives of incarcerated people and decrease the collateral consequences of incarceration, Vera works nationwide to provide postsecondary education opportunities for incarcerated people.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Experimental Site Initiative was created in 2015 and expanded further in 2020, allowing incarcerated students to use Federal Pell Grants at 130 colleges in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Vera is providing technical assistance to these colleges and their correctional partners, helping to ensure that the programs provide quality higher education in prison and post-release. To be successful, the college-prison partnerships engage in the hard work to develop policies, procedures, and practices to increase equitable access to their programs.

Vera also works with local, state, and national partners to build and support the momentum for repealing the federal ban on Pell Grants for people in prison, which has been in place since 1994. The arguments to lift the ban are further strengthened by the success and research of existing college in prison programs—showing the critical role that education for currently and formerly incarcerated people plays in increasing opportunity, safety, and human dignity.

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Project Objectives

  • Vera’s postsecondary education in prison programs give incarcerated people the opportunity to further their education and secure additional education and employment opportunities post-release.

  • Increased educational opportunities are key to providing economic stability for both incarcerated people and their families—reducing recidivism and securing long-term success after release.

  • Helping people advance their education can have additional positive benefits for their children: research shows that education levels of parents are strong predictors of the educational achievements of their children.

College In Prison


In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education announced the Second Chance Pell Experimental Site Initiative (ESI) to test new models to allow incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and pursue  postsecondary education and training with the goal of helping them get jobs, support their families, and turn their lives around. Vera was selected by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance to provide implementation support to the selected sites.

Under the ESI, the Secretary has authority to grant waivers from certain Title IV Higher Education Act (HEA) statutory or regulatory requirements to allow a limited number of institutions to participate in experiments to test alternative methods for administering the Title IV HEA programs. Second Chance Pell will allow participating institutions of higher education (IHE), in partnership with one or more Federal or State penal institutions, to provide Federal Pell Grant funding to otherwise eligible students who are incarcerated and who are eligible for release back into the community, particularly those who are likely to be released within five years of enrollment in the program.

The initiative will do the following:

  • Test whether participation in high-quality educational opportunities increases after access to financial aid for incarcerated adults is expanded
  • Examine how waiving the restriction on providing Pell Grants to individuals incarcerated in Federal or State penal institutions influences academic and life outcomes and
  • Facilitate efforts by institutions to test certain innovative practices aimed at improving student outcomes and the delivery of services.

    This map depicts the selected college-prison partnerships.