Three Rivers, others to continue Pell Grants for prisoners program

Norwich — The U.S. Department of Education has renewed a pilot program that allows eligible inmates to use federal Pell Grants for college courses in Connecticut and 26 other states.

The fourth year of Second Chance Pell, which launched in 2016 under the Obama administration as an experiment to see whether education could reduce recidivism, will begin July 1.

Among the 65 colleges and universities participating is Three Rivers Community College, which offers a certificate in marketing at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, and certificates in either marketing or environmental health and safety management at Radgowski Correctional Institution in Montville.

Both programs require at least eight courses.

Margaret Stroup, director of admissions for Three Rivers Community College, said 14 York students and 42 Radgowski students are enrolled this semester, the sixth.

Together, seven faculty members are teaching two classes at York, the state’s only women’s prison, and five at Radgowski, she said.

In July 2018, the college had used $281,218 in Pell Grants to educate 27 York and 55 Radgowski students over four semesters. More recent numbers weren’t yet available, Stroup said.

“We’re looking to expand it and enroll new students every year,” Stroup said. “Because the students are going to be released. They’re going to come back out into the community. And the research shows that the recidivism rate is much lower for (formerly incarcerated people) who have employable skills and can earn a living wage once they are released."

Stroup said the instructors working in the prisons also “really enjoy it.”

Because of its experimental nature, it isn’t clear when the federal government will choose to permanently implement or end Second Chance Pell.

Outside of the program, inmates haven’t been able to use Pell Grants for education since Congress banned the practice in 1994.

Nick Turner, president and director of Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit, criminal justice reform organization, called on the government to “go one step further” and overturn the 1994 ban.

“Greater access to postsecondary education can help people who are incarcerated break the pernicious link between lack of opportunity and recidivism,” Turner said.

Under the premise that education reduces recidivism, Turner’s organization last month reported that Connecticut could save $3.5 million yearly if the 1994 ban were lifted. The report assumed only 50 percent of eligible state inmates would get Pell Grants. It didn’t include reduced costs in crime, police work and court proceedings.

“This report has clarified in a way we haven’t seen to date what a remarkable return on investment it would be if the (Pell Grant) ban were overturned,” Turner said at the time.

The Pell program, created by Congress in 1965, gave $26.9 billion to almost 7.2 million students in 2016-17.

About 463,000 state inmates would be eligible for aid if Congress were to overturn the ban.

l.boyle@theday.com

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