Senator Schatz Reintroduces Bill to Reverse Clinton-Era “Mistake”

Press Release

February 14, 2018

Today, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) reintroduced a criminal justice reform bill, which would restore higher educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals. The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act of 2018 proposes the reversal of a Clinton-era “tough on crime” initiative which barred incarcerated individuals from receiving Pell Grants in 1994. In 2015, Pres. Bill Clinton stated that the 1994 bill was a mistake and that it “worsened the nation’s criminal justice system.”
In 2016, the Obama administration launched the Second Chance Pell Program which restored Pell Grant funding to a portion of incarcerated individuals. Under this pilot program, 67 schools across the country worked with more than 100 correctional facilities to enroll approximately 12,000 students in federal and state prisons. Each site boasts its own curriculum, with courses leading to a certificate or associate’s degree from a community college or a bachelor’s degree from a public or private four-year school.
Like previous Pell Grant funding, the $30 million invested in the pilot program has not taken away funds from other Pell Grant recipients. In fact, this portion comes to less than 1 percent of the $28 billion annual Pell spending. If passed, the REAL Act would officially restore Pell Grant eligibility to all incarcerated individuals, providing the funding universities need to reinstate educational programs within every facility.
Providing incarcerated individuals with access to higher education has several common-sense rewards, such as decreased reliance on public assistance, increased employment rates, elevated quality of life for children and communities, and a significant drop in recidivism. Children are at a higher risk of living in poverty if their parents are incarcerated; however, when parents participate in postsecondary education, there is an increased likelihood that their children will attend college.
 A 2012 report from the RAND Corporation found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to recidivate than those who did not. Furthermore, the researchers noted that for every dollar invested in correctional educational programming yielded a $4-$5 return from savings produced by reduced re-incarceration costs.
“If passed, the REAL Act would permanently reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students across the country, and provide fair access to an education for all incarcerated individuals,” said Vivian Nixon, Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship.  “Given the fact that 95 percent of those in prison will one day be released, it makes sense that we want returning citizens to be as equipped as possible for the often tumultuous, and stigmatized road of reentry.”
“When we give people in prison an opportunity to earn an education, our communities are safer, our taxpayers save money, and we can end the cycle of recidivism,” said Senator Schatz. “The REAL Act would restore a program we know already works and give people a real chance to rebuild their lives.”
“The importance of the REAL Act lies in the opportunities that it will open for formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, a population that faces enormous constraints and constant barriers to social mobility,” said Ivelisse Gilestra, Policy Assistant for CCF. “By providing access to education for people with criminal justice involvement we are reversing the socio-economic imbalance that keeps them stagnant in a system currently designed to exclude.”
For more information or to schedule an interview with CCF staff, please contact Blaire Perel at or 646-380-7783.
College & Community Fellowship (CCF) is a non-profit dedicated to helping women with criminal convictions earn college degrees so that they, their families, and their communities can thrive. CCF supports students until graduation day and beyond, providing academic support, career coaching, financial development, and much more. We approach systemic change through our national advocacy and technical assistance programs.