Centralia College is one of three colleges in Washington and 67 nationwide selected to participate in a new Second Chance Pell pilot program to expand access to financial aid for incarcerated individuals.
The pilot program from the US Department of Education will allow eligible incarcerated adults to receive Pell Grants and pursue postsecondary education. The goal is to help them get jobs and support their families when they are released.
Centralia College is partnering with Cedar Creek Corrections Center to provide Pell Grants to 12 incarcerated individuals per quarter starting spring 2017. The program will allow selected inmates to earn 45 of the core general education credits needed for an associate degree.
“These 12 inmates per quarter will be able to complete their first year of an associate degree before their release,” explained Jacquie Armstrong, director of Corrections Education at Centralia College. “These courses were chosen because they are universally required for an associate or bachelor’s degree and can be transferred anywhere in the state. It gives them a great head start to further education or job training, and puts them on a path to success after their release.”
Eligible inmates must already have a high school diploma or equivalent, and will be chosen based on a number of factors, including a demonstrated interest in higher education.
Centralia College already partners with Cedar Creek Corrections Center to provide basic education for adults, GED prep classes, GED testing, basic computer and college readiness classes, and programs in building trades, drywall, roofing, siding, and horticulture.
“The research already bears out that programs like this work,” added Armstrong. “We know that inmates who take advantage of education and training programs in prison do better in society after their release. Allowing them to earn college credits opens up unlimited possibilities for these inmates, and gives them far more options than we’ve been able to offer in decades.”
Nationwide, the 67 selected colleges and universities will partner with 141 federal and state penal institutions to enroll roughly 12,000 incarcerated students in educational and training programs. Through the Second Chance Pell pilot program, these institutions may provide Federal Pell Grants to qualified students who are incarcerated and are likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework.
“Access to high quality education is vital to ensuring that justice-involved individuals have an opportunity to reclaim their lives and restore their futures,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “Through this partnership with the Department of Education and institutions of higher learning around the country, this program will help give deserving incarcerated individuals the skills to live lives of purpose and contribute to society upon their release. The Department of Justice will continue to pursue additional efforts to reduce recidivism, promote opportunity, and give justice-involved individuals a meaningful second chance.”
The United States currently has the highest incarceration rate in the world with approximately 2.2 million people incarcerated in American prisons and jails. Hundreds of thousands of individuals are released annually from these facilities. A 2013 study from the RAND Corporation, funded by the Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.