To begin, one must first understand what a Pell Grant is, and who Pell
Grants have been designed to help. A Pell Grant is a federally issued
scholarship that is awarded to undergraduate students who have not obtained
a bachelor’s or any other kind of professional degree. Unlike student
loans, a Federal Pell Grant does not have to be repaid. However, lately,
there has been discussion about whether prisoners should be able to receive
Pell Grants to pay for an education during their time behind bars. This
reinvented a debate from the past.
While Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education,
states that a person who resides in a federal or state penal institution,
or has been a subject to an incarceration due to a sexual offense, is
not eligible to receive a Federal Pell Grant, a reemerging debate that
allows for prisoners to become selectively eligible has surfaced. In fact,
today, July 31st, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are
attending a prison in Jessup, Maryland to create a program that would
allow selected prisoners to receive Pell grants in order to pay for college
courses while serving time. Tyrone Werts, a former prisoner convicted
of second-degree murder for his participation in a deadly robbery, speaks
of his educational journey while behind bars
The Story of a Changed Man
Werts was arrested and placed in Pennsylvania’s Graterford Prison
at age 23. During his time in penitentiary, Werts knew that he needed
to change his life. Entering prison with reading and math skills of a
second grade level, Werts desired an education that would help better
his future. Later, Werts achieved a Pell grant and completed his Bachelor’s
degree through a prison education program founded by Villanova University.
Following his prison sentence, nearly 37 years later, Werts began his life
on a different path. Immediately, be began helping other released prisoners
successfully re-enter society by working at Temple University’s
Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. Werts attributes his success and his
perseverance for a better life to the education he received while in prison.
Werts stated that he is able to see distinct differences between those
who are able to receive an education while in prison and those do not
attend school. He believed that opportunities for education in prisons
created atmospheres that once seemed unfathomable. He explained that many
inmates used their time in prison to study and seek opportunity that would
allow them to flourish in the outside world.
Should Prisoners be Allowed Pell Grants to Pursue an Education?
St. Louis criminal defense attorneys at
The Hammer Law Firm, LLC believe every person deserves a second chance to create a better future.
We believe that every person has a right to pursue a better life. In addition,
a 2013 study produced by RAND Corp. reported that individuals who received
educations while imprisoned were far less likely to commit another crime
after their imprisonment ended. Why should we have the right to object
to people trying to make better lives for themselves?