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Will Prisoners Now Be Eligible for Pell Grants?

hands behind jail bars

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?

The 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?

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