Investing in Futures: Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prison

This report describes how lifting the current ban on awarding Pell Grants to incarcerated people would benefit workers, employers, and states.

Patrick Oakford
Cara Brumfield
Casey Goldvale
Laura Tatun
Margaret diZerega
Fred Patrick
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Georgetown Center of Poverty and Inequality
Vera Institute of Justice
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This report describes how lifting the current ban on awarding Pell Grants to incarcerated people would benefit workers, employers, and states. Specifically, it analyzes the potential employment and earnings impact of postsecondary education programs in prison; identifies the millions of job openings annually that require the skills a person in prison could acquire through postsecondary education; and estimates the money states would save through lower recidivism rates these postsecondary education programs would yield. The research produced the following findings:

  1. Most people in prison are eligible for, but are not provided with the resources for, a postsecondary education.
  2. Postsecondary education in prison increases employment and earnings for formerly incarcerated people.
  3. Postsecondary education in prison provides workers with skills that employers seek.
  4. Greater access to postsecondary education in prison is expected to reduce state prison spending.

This report provides compelling evidence and rationale for not only increasing access to Pell Grants but also for engaging more incarcerated individuals in educational activities while in prison to ensure that upon reentry they have greater employment opportunities while also meeting the need for a skilled workforce.

Descriptive Research
What the experts say

Investing in Futures makes a sound and compelling case for the reinstatement of Pell Grant support for men and women behind the walls of our prisons. The authors artfully link post-secondary education to recidivism, and outline the economic impact of opening this funding opportunity to those who are incarcerated. While the estimate of the percentage of inmates who will take advantage of this funding opportunity may be high, the impact nonetheless would be significant. The report provides sound data and research-based findings on the impact of higher education, not only on the offender's economic opportunities, but more importantly in the public mind, on society's economic and fiscal outcomes. It takes the debate narrative from one of emotion to facts and data.  

On the downside, the authors do not address the practical difficulties that men and women face in actually registering and completing postsecondary programming in our prison systems and a look inside our correctional education system could yield insight into the outcomes that might result from Pell Grant support. There is little information that adult education administrators, educators, or support staff can utilize to inform practice. While it is clearly indicated that Pell Grants and accessibility to higher education provide long term benefits for incarcerated individuals, there is no information related to Adult Learners and how to move a potential student from an AE class to Postsecondary Education. 

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