Two students’ journeys from behind bars to bachelor’s degrees

A federal pilot program launched in 2016 is enabling dozens of colleges to revive prison education initiatives through Pell Grants, The Washington Post reports. In 1994, Congress approved a ban that removed federal Pell Grant funding for prisoners who wished to pursue higher education. The ban led to the shuttering of many higher education initiatives in prisons. Now, advocates hope the so-called Second Chance Pell program experiment will demonstrate the benefits of expanding prisoners’ access to education—and lead to a repeal of the 1994 ban.

The Post story features two former cellmates at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, Donte Small and Sanford Barber, who participated in Goucher College’s inaugural classes at the prison and pushed to “uplift and motivate one another.” Both men are now out of prison, and Small recently graduated from the Baltimore-based liberal arts school with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Barber, who was released from prison in 2017, went on to continue his studies at Pasco-Hernando State College in Florida and plans to earn an associate degree in information technology and transfer to the University of South Florida.

John B. King, Jr., the education secretary who oversaw the launch of the Second Chance Pell program told The Post that “There is a growing bipartisan understanding that the right thing for the country is to make sure that while folks are incarcerated, they have the opportunity to gain additional education and skills.” A current education department spokeswoman says the Trump administration plans to continue the federal experiment until there’s adequate information to set long-term policy.

Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative brings together leading scholars, practitioners, and students to examine the problem of mass incarceration from multiple perspectives. By hosting a series of academic and policy events, and by supporting faculty and student research projects, the Initiative seeks to create a prominent and lasting platform to address the evolving challenges of criminal justice and prison reform. Learn more on the initiative’s web page.

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