Mass incarceration is a huge problem in the United States, one that has been a hot topic this campaign season. Since 2002 the United States has had the highest incarceration rate with 716 prisoners per 100,000 residents.
On a mission to provide successful alternatives to incarceration and eliminate unnecessary barriers to re-entry, President Obama has announced the Second Chance Pell Grant Pilot Program.
The Second Chance Pell Grant Program will provide $30 million dollars in financial aid to inmates at 141 state and federal correctional institutions. With the creation of this new pilot program up to 12,000 prisoners will be able to participate. In order to qualify for the financial aid, inmates must be eligible for release within 5 years of enrolling in coursework. Those who qualify will be eligible to use up to $5,815 to pursue a 2 or 4-year degree from one of 67 approved colleges and universities. The universities participating in the program will offer in classroom instruction, online courses or a mix of both.
In 1994 Congress instituted a ban on providing financial aid to to prisoners. Congress has argued for the last 22 years that it is unfair for prisoners to receive financial aid when financial aid dollars are already limited.Even though the ban is still in place, President Obama has exercised authority to create limited experiments in the deployment of federal student aid. The President has received support from Education Secretary John B. King Jr. who fully stands by the pilot program.
“We all agree that crime must have consequences, but the men and women who have done their time and paid their debt deserve the opportunity to break with the past and forge new lives in their homes, workplaces ad communities.This belief in second chances is fundamental to who we are as Americans,” King said on a call with reporters Thursday.
This is great news for those who are looking for a second chance behind walls that tend not to easily provide them.