The U.S. Department of Education has announced the 67 postsecondary institutions chosen to participate in the new Second Chance Pell pilot program, a federal experimental program aimed at reducing recidivism rates by providing education and training to inmates of state and federal prisons.
Roughly 12,000 incarcerated students across the United States will receive Pell Grants to offset the cost of tuition, fees and textbooks. Fifty of those students will be from Florida, due to a partnership with the Florida Department of Corrections and Florida Gateway College, a Florida College System institution based in Lake City.
The “gateway” region of Florida is home to a number of rural counties in northern Florida, most of which rank among the lowest in the state in their share residents with an associate’s degree or higher.
Daniel Conrath, director of grants at Florida Gateway College, described in an interview with WFSU how participants will be chosen for the program.
“We’re going to be looking at individuals that will be released in the next five years, and we’re also going to be trying to identify folks in certain areas that they’ve already demonstrating a skillset or an interest, that they can thrive when they actually get out of prison so they don’t reoffend,” Conrath said in the interview.
The experimental program was encouraged by a study from the RAND Corporation that showed incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43% less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate. RAND estimates that for every one dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.
According to the Florida Department of Corrections, over 100,000 inmates are housed in state prisons and cost taxpayers $18,064 per inmate annually. While recidivism rates have been on the decline in recent years, one in four Florida inmates return to prison within 36 months of being released, according to state records.
“. . . [W]e’re going to be saving the taxpayers a lot of money in the future by having people successfully enter the workforce rather than going back into prison for longer sentences. So that was really the motivating factor behind our decision,” Cronrath stated in comments to WUSF.
Before the program was announced, a federal law that was passed in 1994 banned most prisoners from receiving Pell Grants. According to Inside Higher Ed, the Obama Administration is allowed the authority to test the program under the Higher Education Act. Experiments such as this one allow the U.S. Department of Education to test innovative practices in the delivery of Pell Grants to inform future policies and programs.
Incarcerated students participating at the Florida Gateway College program will be able to pursue associates degrees or certificates in three areas – general education, environmental technology and horticulture, according to reporting from WUSF.
For more on the Second Chance Pell program, read the U.S. Department of Education’s press release here.