The Obama administration plans on extending the availability of federal college grants to prisoners for the first time since the 1994 law that prohibited state and federal prisoners from receiving Pell Grants, hinted Secretary of Education Arne Duncan during a policy speech on Monday. The initiative would function as a temporary pilot program and would allow for thousands of inmates to tap into Pell Grants, the main source of federal aid for low-income students.

In 1993, prisoners received $34 million in Pell Grants, according to figures provided by the Department of Education. A year later, Congress cut off funding, prohibiting state and federal prison inmates from receiving Pell Grants as part of an anti-crime legislation.

Though the Obama administration cannot eradicate the ban without Congress' approval, under the Higher Education Act, the Education Department has the power to temporarily bypass the ban to test how effective the change in federal student aid distribution proves to be.

Advocates of the initiative shine light on the positive societal effects of the program. A 2013 study by the RAND Corporation found that inmates who participated in educational programs had lower recidivism rates than inmates who didn't. A study in 2001 by the Correctional Education Association resulted in similar findings that the chances of incarceration was reduced by at least 10% when inmates were provided with an education while behind bars.

Education Committee Chairman John Kline, a House Republican, though willing to openly discuss the benefits of college funding for prison inmates, criticizes the Obama administration for not passing through Congress.

"Unfortunately, the administration has chosen once again to stifle an important debate by acting unilaterally and without regard for the law... if the administration wants to see meaningful change take place, it must stop governing through executive fiat and start working with the people's elected representatives in Congress," Kline said in a statement.

The official announcement of the program is set for Friday when Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch will visit Goucher College's prison education partnership at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland, according to the Wall Street Journal.

No specific details have been released regarding the structure of the experiment, the length of the program, or requirements for eligibility.

 

 

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