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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: September 28, 2018 04:06 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: College Educational Assistance for Inmates and Ex-Offenders
I plan to introduce legislation that will further provide criminal justice reform by enhancing post-secondary educational access to inmates and ex-offenders which, in turn, will result in reduced recidivism.

Higher education is an important step in the rehabilitation process for inmates and ex-offenders who are reintegrating into society. Allowing them to gain access to quality higher education will enable them to get the learning and skills needed to be productive citizens and help prevent them from committing new crimes.

According to the Department of Corrections (DOC), the rate of recidivism (frequency at which ex-offenders commit new crimes and return to prison) is 63.5% within the first three years of completing their sentence. However, college exposure can significantly reduce the recidivism rate. A 2014 Department of Justice-funded study from the RAND Corporation indicated that inmates who participated in quality correctional education (including postsecondary correctional education) reduce their odds of recidivating significantly. The same study also estimated that for every dollar spent on correctional education programming, you save four to five dollars on three year reincarnation costs. Most inmates who are serving time in prison will be released from prison and return to their families and communities. DOC indicates that approximately 20,500 inmates are released into the community each year. That said, we need to expand access to higher education so that we can help ex-offenders succeed, thus reducing new crimes and making our communities safer.

My measure would establish a “Second Chance PHEAA Pilot Program” which would allow eligible incarcerated individuals to receive PHEAA Grants and pursue postsecondary education so that they can develop the skills necessary to obtain a job and contribute to society when being released. Presently, an incarcerated individual is NOT eligible for a PHEAA Grant.

In 2015, the Obama Administration established the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program to support postsecondary opportunities for those incarcerated in federal and state prisons. By way of background, prisoners were eligible to receive a Pell Grant to pay for college courses until federal legislation in 1994 prohibited them from doing so. The Second Chance Pell Pilot Program opens up that opportunity once again. Given the initiative at the federal level to open up eligibility of Federal Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals, I believe we should implement a similar pilot program in Pennsylvania that makes state grants available to eligible inmates (those who are eligible for release back into the community within five years of enrollment in the program). The initiative will provide PHEAA State Grants to a select number of individuals in our state correctional institutions. Funding for the five-year pilot program will come from a percentage (.5%) of the total funding appropriated to the PHEAA Grant program by the General Assembly.

The bill will also set up a four-year demonstration project for an innovative post-prison education program aimed at helping people recently released from prison transition successfully to college and the work force. The program would provide individuals with resources, including but not limited to, scholarships, academic advising and career counseling, and advocacy and mentoring. The grant would be competitively awarded to a non-profit organization through the Board of Probation and Parole (Board), in consultation with the Department of Corrections (DOC). The grant application will require a detailed description of the program including eligibility, enrollment process, and policies (i.e., drug and alcohol, academic, lifestyle). The demonstration project shall receive no more than $125,000 per fiscal year. As the demonstration project nears its conclusion, the Board and DOC shall issue a report to the General Assembly assessing the success of the program and making recommendations regarding possible extension and expansion of the program.

Introduced as SB1277