Updates in Prison Education 2019

Last month, TTEF was invited to the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner  Innovation Lab session, hosted in partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (DOC). We heard from the Vera Institute of Justice on national prison education trends. Additionally, TTEF co-founder Andres Idarraga presented as a part of a panel of Rhode Island prison-education non-profits.

It is an exciting time for education in prisons!

The Second Chance Pell Program is currently implemented in 28 states, and moving towards a full implementation on the federal level. This program renders all incarcerated individuals eligible for federal funding, or Pell grants, for postsecondary education and career training programs. Pell-funded college level courses are offered within the prisons by private colleges and universities, allowing prisoners to work towards college credit or certificates, the foundation for achieving a post-secondary degree upon release. This program unlocks a myriad of benefits, both in increased access to skill and knowledge building for incarcerated individuals, but also in making local communities safer.  One direct benefit of the program is expanded access to jobs upon release, leading to long term stability for formerly incarcerated students. Another major benefit includes reduced recidivism rates; the Vera Institute on Justice reports that individuals who are enrolled in “prison education programs are 43 percent less likely to recidivate than those who do not”. The implementation of post-secondary education in prisons also leads to lower crime rates and improved facility safety, as prisons with such programs have less incidents of violence.

Currently, individuals in juvenile centers or jails already have access to Pell, and as mentioned earlier, federal inmates in 28 states have also won eligibility to Pell funding. However, Rhode Island is among one of the 22 states that do not have federal Pell eligibility. A Vera report shows that there is a need for the implementation of Second Chance Pell, as around 1,400 people, nearly two thirds of incarcerated individuals in Rhode Island, meet the standard for attending a post secondary program.

Beyond supporting purely educational courses, the Second Chance Pell funding can be used to provide vocational and other career training programs in prison. In January of this year, the Jumpstart Our Businesses By Supporting Students (JOBS) Act was introduced, allowing individuals enrolled in Second Chance Pell Programs to use their pell funding for “vocational certification programs” (Ali). This vocational training would is another way to increased job prospects once outside of prison. Additionally the bipartisan criminal justice bill passed by Congress last December is also set to “expand job training and other programming aimed at reducing recidivism rates among federal prisoners” (Fandos).

Thus, through federal efforts such as the Second Chance Pell Program, and through TTEF’s own work with providing college classes in Rhode Island prisons, there is much to be hopeful for in the future of prison education.


Ali, Diana. “Pell Grants for Prisoners: Considerations in the New Administration.” NASPA, 22 Sept. 2017, http://www.naspa.org/rpi/posts/pell-grants-for-prisoners-considerations-in-the-new-administration.

Fandos, Nicholas. “Senate Passes Bipartisan Criminal Justice Bill.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Dec. 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/us/politics/senate-criminal-justice-bill.html.

Further Reading:



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