Caddell Kivett is ready to go back to college. He sorted out defaulted student loans. He figured out what he wants to study. Kivett, 52, is in prison. In July, he should be able to use a federal Pell Grant to help pay for his education. It marks the first time in nearly three decades that incarcerated people – as many as 700,000 of them, according to the Education Department – are broadly eligible for the aid. The change could open up new college opportunities, reports Open Campus in USA Today. The expansion of Pell Grants has been a long-sought move since the 1994 federal anticrime law eliminated them for people in prison and ended the majority of prison education programs. Although educating people in prison has been shown to have benefits, the new money may be difficult for many to access for a host of reasons.
In Kivett’s case, the only higher ed option at his North Carolina facility is a theology degree. He wants to study journalism after working for the prison newspaper, the Nash News. The federal aid can be used only at prisons that have Pell-eligible college programs. His doesn’t. Studies show that prison education increases the chance of someone getting a job after release and decreases the likelihood that they’ll return to prison. Providing education to those who won’t ever go home has benefits too. Lifers often become mentors to others, helping create a more positive prison culture. Pell Grants are the main form of federal financial aid for low-income students, which includes most incarcerated learners, providing a maximum annual award of $7,395. Pell funds won’t be enough to make college available to everyone like Kivett. Basic information gaps need to be filled, college support structures need to be built, and corrections agencies must sort out their new role. Congress assigned them the task of approving new prison education programs.