By reforming criminal law and lifting a ban on the federal Pell Grant program, Illinois and other states could save millions of dollars per year in prison costs, according to an article from NPR Illinois.
In a report titled, “Investing in Futures: Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prison,” the Vera Institute examined the impact of postsecondary education on incarcerated individuals. In this context, postsecondary education refers to academic experience at the college, university, or graduate level.
In particular, the Vera Institute studied the Pell Grant program, which allowed inmates and prisoners to apply for federal funds to pursue postsecondary education. Certain inmates became ineligible for Pell Grants in 1994 during the Clinton administration.
More recently, the Obama administration attempted to revive this initiative by introducing the Second Chance Pell Pilot program. This pilot program is limited to a maximum of 12,000 inmates at present.
According to the Vera Institute report, 64% of federal and state inmates have the minimum qualifications to pursue postsecondary education. Stated otherwise, the clear majority of incarcerated inmates have obtained a high school diploma or completed a GED program.
Additionally, the Vera Institute report indicated that 58% of incarcerated inmates fail to complete educational programs while in prison. According to 2014 data, only 9% of these inmates completed postsecondary education while in prison. Part of this problem stems from resource availability. With a full rollout of the Pell Grant program, an estimated 463,000 inmates could pursue postsecondary education.
Without a postsecondary education, the future seems increasingly bleak for job seekers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a major shift in minimum qualifications for job openings over the next 10 years. For people with a bachelor’s degree or at least some experience at the university level, the Bureau projects an average of five million job opportunities annually. For people without those minimum qualifications, it does not seem like there will be as many job opportunities.
By providing greater access to postsecondary education through the Pell Grant program, inmates could fulfill the minimum qualifications for the modern job market. The Vera Institute report estimates that this would save all U.S. states a combined $365.8 million in annual prison costs.
In Illinois, specifically, the potential cost savings from the Pell Grant program would be significant. The Vera Institute report estimated that Illinois would realize $17.3 million in cost savings by increasing the prison access to postsecondary education programs.
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