May 21, 2015


Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (MD-4), along with Reps. Danny K. Davis (IL-7), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-3), Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-3), and Cedric L. Richmond (LA-2), introduced the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act today, legislation that would reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for federal and state prisoners.

“I thank my colleagues for joining me in this important legislation that will curb our nation’s high incarceration rate through education,” Edwards said. “The REAL Act is about restoring education opportunities for our nation’s prisoners so they will have the opportunity to reintegrate as productive members of the community post-incarceration. We know that helping economically challenged individuals work toward post-secondary study and training provides a better future for all Americans. We should provide such opportunities to all to ensure that the cyclical process of repeat incarceration does not continue.”

“Research is abundantly clear that postsecondary correctional education and training are greatly needed, have tremendous effectiveness, and save taxpayers money,” Davis said. “A lack of federal funding is the primary barrier to correctional education. This is another reason why we need to expand Pell grants and restore eligibility for the incarcerated. Expanding and restoring Pell is a common-sense federal investment that dramatically increases successful reentry and builds stronger communities and families.” 

"As we work to end the cycle of recidivism, we must empower those that have made a mistake to rebuild their lives. An education is the best path to a better life and an important step toward addressing the economic and social realities that are driving mass incarceration, especially in communities of color," Lee said. "In the 1993-94 school year, incarcerated individuals accounted for less than 1 percent of total Pell Grant recipients. According to a recent RAND Corporation study, every dollar invested in prison education programs yields a $4 to $5 reduction in incarceration costs during the first three post-release years.”

"Studies have shown that reinstating Pell Grant eligibility for state and federal prisoners will reduce future crime and save more in future costs of incarceration than the Pell Grants cost," said Scott, Ranking Member on the Committee on Education and the Workforce. "We have a choice: reduce crime and save money, or suffer increased crime and spend more money. This bill chooses to reduce crime and save money."

“At a time when college education is becoming harder and harder to pay for, we benefit as a society when prisoners have the necessary tools to create productive lives for themselves,” DeLauro said. “I am proud to support Congresswoman Edwards’s bill that would restore our laws to where they were just 20 years ago.”

“Too often, people who have paid their debt to society return home with no new skills or education while facing new barriers to providing for themselves and their families,” Richmond said. “Giving people the opportunity to improve themselves during their incarceration means they can take control of their future and makes them less likely to return to prison. Education is the doorway to the American dream and we must make sure that door is not locked to those who need it most. Access is the key, and that is why this bill is important. If enacted, the REAL Act will provide state and federal prisoners the opportunity to better themselves while reducing the burden of recidivism on the taxpayer.”


Background: From 1972 to 1995 prisoners who were not sentenced to death or life without parole could apply for Pell Grants. However, a provision in the 1994 omnibus crime bill that amended the 1965 Higher Education Act reversed this policy. The total funding for prisoners up to that date, nine months into the school year, was $34.6 million out of $5.3 billion for the program overall. This was a very small percentage of funding that made an outsized difference. Prisoners who participate in correctional education programs are 43 percent less likely to return to prison and 13 percent more likely to have a job after finishing their sentence.

Additionally, since 1995 our state and federal population has increased by nearly 50 percent from 1 million to 1.5 million today.

Original Cosponsors (17) of the REAL Act include Reps. Danny K. Davis (IL-7), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-3), Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-3), Cedric L. Richmond (LA-2), John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Stacey Plaskett (VI), Charles B. Rangel (NY-13), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), John Lewis (GA-5), Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-3), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson (GA-4), Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-4), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Ted Lieu (CA-33).

The REAL Act is supported by the ACLU, Correctional Education Association (CAC), Drug Policy Alliance, Education From the Inside Out Coalition, Legal Action Center, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., National Employment Law Project (NELP).