Since 2015, about 8,800 incarcerated individuals have received federal Pell grant assistance to take college-level courses inside their correctional institutions. But has the program made a difference to their lives?
So far, the answer is unclear. Not only is the timeline too short to assess whether the grants have lowered recidivism or improved incarcerees’ chances of post-release employment; but there’s still no effective evaluation of how well the program itself is working in the 59 schools that have participated.
The GAO reported that the federal Department of Education plans to conduct a “rigorous” examination of the program after first insisting that it had neither the funds nor the capacity to provide more than a “descriptive” evaluation.
“[This] will help provide policymakers with the information needed to make decisions about the future of Pell grants for incarcerated students,” wrote Gretta L. Goodwin, director of the Homeland Security and Justice division at GAO.
GAO cited several research studies showing reductions in recidivism among incarcerees who participated in some form of correctional education—including a 2013 RAND “meta-study” which found that inmates participating in educational programs had 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than non-participants, and 13 percent higher odds of getting a job post-release.
Incarcerees at a college course in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York State. Photo courtesy Hudson link for Higher Education in Prison