Education is transformative. Access to postsecondary education, in particular, equips students with the skills they need to succeed in life and contribute to their local communities. But too many people are barred from accessing postsecondary education – including many people in prisons who are eventually released, as 90 percent of incarcerated people are, and find themselves reentering communities without the competitive skills and qualifications necessary for good-paying jobs.
The end result? Too many formerly incarcerated people fall into dangerous cycles of poverty, crime and recidivism. When people struggle with reentry, the devastating impact is often felt far beyond their families: There’s a cost to taxpayers as the ripples are felt across our correctional, public safety and even child welfare services.
We know from firsthand experience the importance of increasing access to postsecondary education for the greatest number of people in prison as possible. As the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections – a state that participates in the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative so that more people in our prisons can attain education – and as a formerly incarcerated person whose life was transformed through access to education after prison, we understand the urgency behind this issue as well as the importance of lawmakers seizing this opportunity to expand access to Pell Grants.
According to research from the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, 64 percent of people in federal and state prisons are eligible to enroll in postsecondary education. A study from RAND, first conducted in 2013 and updated in 2018, found that access to postsecondary education in prison can reduce recidivism by up to 48 percent.
John Wetzel is the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Dr. Stanley Andrisse, MBA, PhD, is an endocrinologist scientist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, a faculty member at Howard University, and the Executive Director of From Prison Cells to PhD.