In 2015, the Department of Education announced big changes to the way Pell grants, the main source of funding for those seeking higher education in the United States, are administered: for the first time in decades, inmates will be able to access the Pell grant. same.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration announced plans to expand the initiative, a move that is expected to have an impact on the entire Texas penitentiary system.
Michelle Pitcher is a reporter for the Texas Observer. documentation it’s a policy change. She joined the Texas Standard to talk about the state of prison education in Texas. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: In your story, you spent time talking to lawyers, prisoners, people who participated in these programs while incarcerated. What does prison education look like now?
Michelle Pitcher: Right now prison education in Texas looks very different depending on where you are. I went to one unit, which is a state prison in Huntsville, and this program is run by Lee College, which was one of Pell’s second chance places during the Obama era. So they have actually had access to this funding for about five years now. And you can tell the programs are solid, enrollment is growing fast and most of the men who participate in these classes are doing so with Grant Pell funding. But if you go to another unit, say one of the women’s prisons or another in the state that didn’t have access to that funding, you see a very different picture in terms of what’s on offer and participation.
So what makes the Wynne unit you’re talking about different from, say, some other entities? Is there anything about the level of incarceration, or what are the differences?
Yes, the difference, I think, can actually just be tracked in funding – it was selected as one of the 70 Second Chance Pell sites back in 2015. So they had five years to rebuild the programming and coverage and all that. it can really help prisoners understand what is available to them and take advantage of it.
Is there a way to evaluate what this means for people incarcerated returning to the regular world and what impact it has had?
Experts agree that earning a degree or even participating in educational programs while incarcerated greatly reduces a person’s chances of relapse or returning to prison. So there are several reasons for this. When you’re incarcerated, you obviously miss out on some of the time you would, if you were in the free world, learn trade skills, get familiar with new technologies, and depending on how long you’re incarcerated. , this can seriously affect your ability to find work after you are released. Thus, people released from prison with a degree, certificate, or some level of education they received while incarcerated are much more likely to find work and succeed in the free world.
Okay, in 2015, a program called Pell’s Second Chance resumed funding for inmate education. And earlier this year, the Biden administration announced an expansion. You write that by next year all prisons in Texas will be claiming this money. What is the goal of the defenders in the coming years? Indeed, will all prisons in Texas get the funding they are entitled to?
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is keen to use this new funding in more and more institutions. Advocates are very hopeful that this funding will help reduce the disparities I mentioned earlier between divisions and between men’s and women’s institutions. So access has a huge place in people’s minds and it really just means enabling opportunities in more places and more people where things like moving or having to commute to class can be reduced and people can actually spend time for learning and learning. the maximum that they can from these classes.