Eric Gentry helps community college programs provide pathway to reentry

Eric Gentry

The first priority of many people leaving prison is to get a job. But going to college may provide a better way to reenter society. Just ask Eric Gentry.

Gentry runs two unique community college programs geared to those in reentry. He’s convinced that education is the key to helping turn lives around. It certainly was for him.

Growing up in Vallejo, Calif., in a gang-involved family, Gentry had cousins, uncles and parents with felony convictions. Many were in prison. Gentry dropped out of high school. And, at 18, he and his brother were involved in a murder case, resulting in a six-year sentence for manslaughter. After being released in 2010 and home for only two months, Gentry was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and got two years.

A love of reading led to college

Never much of a student, Gentry read his first book in the county jail – and discovered that he loved reading. He devoured everything from Harry Potter to Noam Chomsky. A girlfriend he reconnected with while home for two months had enrolled at Cal State East Bay and often talked to him about college.

“I learned that I liked to read as an escape mechanism,” Gentry says. “She was saying ‘you like to read books? That’s a lot of what college is.’”

In spite of her encouragement, he took a job at a warehouse in downtown San Francisco after release. “I was there for three months and was in some of the same behaviors I had on the inside. I had an altercation with the manager and got fired,” he says.

It was following that brief job experience that Gentry decided to enroll in community college. He then went on to Cal State East Bay, graduating summa cum laude. After graduation he got a job as a case worker with an Oakland nonprofit, but at the beginning of this year was recruited to do work that will help those in reentry find their way back into society through education.

Community college programs for those in reentry

Solano Community College in Vallejo, Calif., where Gentry went to school, asked him to cofound a new initiative known as S.O.A.R., Students Overcoming Adversity and Recidivism. And this summer, he found out about another program, R.I.S.E., Restorative Integrative Self-Education, at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif, and is now working with that one as well.

Although they have slight differences, both programs are quite similar. In essence, they promote higher education to formerly incarcerated individuals.

Here’s how they work. “Someone shows up straight home from Santa Rita (Alameda County Jail in Dublin, Calif.), and I’m telling them that I’m the first step,” says Gentry. “I’ll sit them down on the computer and open applications for college and the promise grant (the California College Promise Grant that allows enrollment fees to be waived). I’ll also help them fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form.

In addition to helping them get into college and procure financial aid, Gentry assists students in finding jobs. That way they will be able to cover some or all of their living expenses as well. He also helps those at Chabot get bus passes. The programs provide snacks in the S.O.A.R. and R.I.S.E. offices, so they become places to hang out, where students can meet others participating in the programs.

S.O.A.R. currently has 22 student participants. R.I.S.E. has 50, with nine more starting in the spring.

Why go to college

Why should people coming out of prison go to college?

“I feel like that a lot of us coming home carry chips on our shoulder. We’re aggressive. We come from an environment where you’ve got to defend yourself. And you carry that out to the community,” Gentry says. “I came out and got a job right away, but I wasn’t ready to transition from a Level 4 prison to a job. You try to throw somebody into a work environment where you have to cooperate. And it doesn’t work. You need a transitional period, and college provides that.”

College offers a fresh start and a chance for those in reentry to get away from their prison background.

“The jobs that are offered to us are a lot of low-level jobs. And the workers are former prisoners,” he says. “At college nobody asked me where I’m from. Or where I went to prison. College allowed me to leave that life behind.”

For Gentry, the knowledge he gained from what he learned became powerful. “It was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced before. It was invigorating to go to college and to get a degree.”

And now he can offer that opportunity to others through the programs he works in.

There are few programs like S.O.A.R. and R.I.S.E. that Gentry knows about, but he’d like to see more of them.

For those colleges that might be interested in starting a similar program, Gentry has advice:

“Colleges need a lot of campus support. They need people willing to do the work, he says. “Everybody doesn’t have to like you or the work you do or the people you represent. Just don’t let them stand in your way.”

“Every campus has equity programs. If you say you’re for equity, this program is the most equity program you can have on campus. And if you’re going to start a program, have a space where people can come and be with other students who are facing similar challenges.”

For programs in other areas

Corrections to College California’s website includes a directory of other programs in the state and people to contact for more information.

To locate other programs, check directly with your local community colleges, state colleges and universities. You can also search the internet for community college or college programs for those in reentry, followed by your state. You may also want to contact the American Association of Community Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Manpower employment agency offers new GED program to qualified workers

ManpowerWould you like to work in a temp job and receive help with attaining your high school equivalency GED at the same time?

If so, you may want to look into applying for a position at Manpower. The Manpower employment agency is part of the ManpowerGroup, the world’s third largest staffing firm with 2,600 offices in 80 countries.

The company has begun a program to offer GEDs to qualified employees in collaboration with educational content provider Pearson. According to ManpowerGroup, 70 percent of all jobs require a high school diploma or higher, and getting a GED is a way to remove barriers to employment for those who may have difficulty securing employment.

“Employers cannot find skilled workers across all sectors of the U.S. economy from transport and trade to manufacturing and sales, and the problem won’t fix itself,” said Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America. “We know the biggest obstacle to learning is time, and this program offers our associates the ability to earn while they learn.”

The way the program works

Each participant is assigned an advisor, who they will meet with virtually at a time that fits into their schedule. Manpower employees will have online access to preparation and study materials for each of the four GED subjects, as well as practice tests and assessments. The four subjects that need to be mastered to earn a GED are social studies, science, mathematical reasoning, and reasoning through language arts.

The program is free to those employees who meet the qualifications, but they need to have access to a phone, computer and the internet to participate. It is also available in Spanish.

To be eligible, workers need to be on a current contract assignment with a participating ManpowerGroup office and assigned to a position which does not specify that a high school diploma or GED is required.

It takes less than three months

Obtaining a GED can be accomplished in one to three months. The assigned advisor will contact participants weekly by email or phone to check up on their progress and offer any needed support.

Doing temp assignments and participating in the program can be an excellent opportunity to get some work experience, establish an employment record and get a GED, all at the same time.

If you think you might be interested, visit your nearest Manpower branch office.

Free online courses can help you improve your basic knowledge and skills

free online coursesYou’re just getting out of prison or jail and eager to boost your knowledge and skills to be better prepared for the job market. Maybe you started your educational endeavor while still incarcerated by getting a GED or learning various skills from classes that were offered. Or possibly you even earned a two- or four-year college degree.

No matter what your situation, however, you can usually upgrade your skills and marketability. Whether you want to improve your basic knowledge in math and English, prepare to enter a community college program, get tips on how to search for a job or just learn about a subject that interests you, there are a multitude of free online courses available free of charge.

These are not the super sophisticated MOOC (massive open online courses) offered by universities through the likes of Audacity, Lynda and Coursera. Rather, for the most part, they provide more basic education for those who need to catch up.

Best free online courses for basic knowledge and skills

Here are a few of the best examples:

Khan Academy  — As a nonprofit organization, Khan Academy has helped educate thousands of students around the world with its online courses in math, science, computer programming and other subjects. The instruction is done by using videos, which have been viewed more than 1.6 billion times. Need to improve your knowledge of math? There are  courses in types of math, like arithmetic and geometry. In addition, math is taught by grade level, from kindergarten through high school.  Khan Academy even has a section on careers with videos of people who work in those jobs, what they do, how much they make and other details.

YouTube Learning – It’s still just a year old, but YouTube Learning is building its connections to educational channels and offers a growing number of courses that include technology and digital skills, how to get better at math, launching and running a business, and career advice.

Google Digital Garage – If you would like to become up to speed on Python programming, or learn the basics of code, the fundamentals of graphic design or other things digital, head for Google Digital Garage. While at the garage, you can also check out career courses on such subjects as landing your next job or business communications. While many of the classes are just one-hour long, some are 20 hours or more.

Learn my Way – For those who have no computer experience, the British website Learn My Way includes a comprehensive course with many lessons on how to use one. It includes tutorials on everything from how to use a mouse and creating documents to using search engines and keeping your personal data safe.

California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative – Want to enroll in junior college but feel your basic knowledge of math and English could use improvement? The California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative has created an excellent list of resources for underprepared students. This list includes videos on improving grammar, how to evaluate the validity of a website for research purposes and understanding various mathematical principles.

Microsoft training – Those not up to speed on Word or Excel, two programs that most businesses use on a daily basis, can get free training at the online Microsoft 365 Training Center. Brief tutorials teach users how to create and edit documents and perform other functions. There is also training programs for PowerPoint and other Microsoft products.

Although there are other educational sites out there, these are the best free sites we know of to get you started. Hopefully they will help you improve your basic skills and provide knowledge that will give you the confidence to go out and get a job.

New federal pilot project restores Pell Grants for prisoners

Pell GrantsAlthough a college education is not for everyone, it can be a very beneficial use of the time that many people spend behind bars. To help inmates cover the cost of that education, the Obama Administration created the Second Chance Pell pilot program, with 67 participating colleges and universities announced late last month.

Pell Grants are given by the U.S. federal government to students with financial need and they do not need to be repaid. Before 1995 prisoners had access to these grants, but the passage of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act brought an end to the practice. Over the years there have been efforts to restore them, and more than two decades later, Pell Grants for prisoners are back again.

The colleges and universities chosen to participate will partner with more than 100 federal and state penal institutions to enroll roughly 12,000 incarcerated students in educational and training programs. These institutions may provide federal Pell Grants to qualified students who are incarcerated and are likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework.

“Access to high quality education is vital to ensuring that justice-involved individuals have an opportunity to reclaim their lives and restore their futures,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

“Through this partnership with the Department of Education and institutions of higher learning around the country, this program will help give deserving incarcerated individuals the skills to live lives of purpose and contribute to society upon their release.”

Most programs classroom-based

Most of the schools are public two-year and four-year institutions that will offer classroom-based instructions on-site at various corrections facilities. Others plan to offer online education or a combination of both classroom and online instruction. About 37 percent of the schools will offer prison-based education for the first time. Although it depends on the institution, schools could begin offering education and training programs as early as July 1.

The colleges and universities selected for the pilot project include Auburn University in Alabama, Bennington College in Vermont, California State University Los Angeles, Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College in Minnesota, Marymount Manhattan College in New York, Rutgers in New Jersey and Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma, among many others.

Research has proved that educating prisoners pays off. A 2013 study from the RAND Corp., funded by the Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

Recognizing the economic and social benefits of education for prisoners, the Pell Grant pilot project will build on the Obama Administration’s commitment to create a fairer and more effective criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, and combat the impact of mass incarceration on families and communities through educational opportunity.


Career Online High School offers education at local libraries


Los Angeles Public Library held a graduation ceremony for its first Career Online High School Class early this year. It was officiated by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Librarian John F. Szabo, Board of Library Commissioners President Bich Ngoc Cao and State Librarian of California Greg Lucas.


Although libraries are continually reinventing themselves to meet the needs of the 21st century, serving as a high school has to be one of the most unique ideas yet.

As part of the first program of its type anywhere, a growing number of libraries across the U.S. are offering their patrons a chance to earn a high school diploma.

It’s called Career Online High School and combines a high school education – culminating in a diploma not a GED – along with additional specialization in one of eight in-demand career fields. These career certificates, ranging from certified transportation services to retail customer service skills, give graduates an extra edge when they search for employment upon graduation or a head start if they decide to go on for further education or training.

Developed in 2012 by Cengage Learning and Smart Horizons Career Online Education, the Career Online High School program was adapted for the public library market by Gale, a division of Cengage Learning, in 2014.

Currently more than 70 public libraries offer Career Online High School, with nearly 1,000 students and more than 130 graduates nationwide so far.

Libraries adapt to changing needs

The program is part of the ever-evolving mission of libraries determined to adapt to the changing needs of their patrons.

“In 2008 with the recession, libraries were impacted. A lot of libraries were seeing a ton more traffic than before,” said Phil Faust, vice president and publisher for databases at Gale. “What we saw in the market was a changing of the needs. People were coming and looking for help finding new jobs. They’d been in an industry like the automotive industry and never done anything else but had now been laid off.

“Libraries across the country started switching their programming and focus to educating the community, high school completion, things like that.”

And Career Online High School is one of the best examples of this.

How it works for a library and its students

Gale partners with libraries that are interested and guides them through an eight-week start-up and training process. Each library is provided a different package, depending on the number of seats (space for students) it wants. Some libraries have 25 students, while others will buy upwards of 200 seats at a time.

The students begin with a pre-requisite program, going through a sample class that shows them what it’s like to participate and allows the library to evaluate whether they qualify.

If accepted into the program, a student will have 18 months to complete it. All instruction is online, and students can either do the work at home or entirely at the library, if they have no computer or Internet access otherwise. Each student is given a scholarship, which comes out of the library’s budget, so there is no cost to them. Some libraries, including the San Diego Public Library, encourage members of the community to support the program by paying for a scholarship.

Gale offers support through representatives who work with the individual libraries, but it also offers support to individual students.

“We have dedicated academic coaches (provided by Smart Horizons) assigned to every student who takes the program. Their job is to assist them to make sure they’re successful and get through the program,” said Faust.

Los Angeles Public Library, one of the early adopters of Career Online High School, held a graduation ceremony in January for its first class of 28 students.

“L.A. is a city of second chances, and our libraries are a vital resource to help level the playing field of opportunity,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at the ceremony. “As today’s graduates complete their secondary education through the Career Online High School, we are inspired by the power of these types of programs to transform the lives of Angelenos.”

And as more libraries sign on to the program, Career Online High School is in the process of transforming the lives of people not just in Los Angeles, but across the U.S.


Students or libraries interested in more information can contact Gale.

Online campus in Florida prisons

In addition to libraries, this program is being used by the Florida Department of Corrections. Known as FDOC Online Campus it operates at 15 facilities across the state. About 1,100 inmates have received diplomas during the the four years that the program has been in existence.


Obtaining your GED

Obtaining your California High School Equivalency Certificate (GED)

Some general information regarding the General Education Development Test (GED) that may be taken by students 18 years old and older for the purpose of receiving the California High School Equivalency Certificate.

Millions of people like you have taken the GED Tests to get a better job, continue their eduction, or to feel better about themselves. You can take the GED Tests almost anywhere in the United States and Canada, as well as at more than 100 sites internationally. GED Testing Centers can often help to find you instruction so that you’re prepared to pass the GED Tests. They can also arrange for changes in the way GED Tests are administered if you have a documented disability.

The GED Tests measure your knowledge and academic skills against those of today’s traditional high school graduates. You’ll be able to learn what to expect when you take the GED Tests, where to find a GED Testing Center, what your scores mean when you receive them in the mail, and how to use your GED credential to enroll in a college or university program of your choice, by accessing the following Web sites:

California Department of Education
American Council on Education
GED Practice Test – Includes practice GED test questions.

Khan Academy
Make use of their extensive video library, practice exercises, and assessments from any computer with access to the web all for free. Their video library covers k–12 math, science topics such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and even reaches into the humanities with playlists on finance and history. Each of the 2,100+ videos is a digestible chunk, approximately 10 minutes long, and especially purposed for viewing on the computer.

For help with basic reading and writing skills check out:

Literacy for Every Adult Program (LEAP), City of Richmond

LEAP is a free program sponsored by the Richmond Public Library in which tutors and learners work one-on-one or in small groups. LEAP’s purpose is to help adults develop the skills and confidence they need to achieve their individual goals.

The California Library Literacy Program

California Library Literacy Services (CLLS) is a program of the California State Library. The mission of CLLS is to enable Californians of all ages to reach their literacy goals and use library services effectively. California has approximately 3.4 million adults with below basic literacy skills. Over 100 CLLS libraries serve nearly 20,000 adults annually in over 800 library branches and other outlets statewide. As a result, these adults are voting for the first time, reading newspapers, reading aloud to their children, and securing jobs.

To find a literacy program in other parts of the country check out the National Institute for Literacy

Is a college degree necessary to get a good job?

MP900314164Many college grads are deep in debt with college loans these days. You’ve heard the news. They can’t find a job. Living at home. Some have given up and don’t know what to do.

Which brings up the question: Is a college education really necessary? Can you get a good job without it?

Although there are a lot of conflicting opinions, the answer is basically yes, you can get a good job without a college education. In fact for those in reentry, it might be better to look toward an apprenticeship, certificate program or other specialized training that will lead to a specific job.

High dropout rates, excessive debt

Going the college route, in fact, can be a gamble, with the chances of graduation not guaranteed. According to the Institute of Education Sciences of the National Center for Education Statistics, (part of the U.S. Department of Education), only 59% of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their college education in 2006 had graduated by 2012.

And on top of that, 71% of those who did graduate from four-year colleges in 2012 carried student debt, according to the Project on Student Debt of the Oakland, Calif.-based Institute for College Access & Success. The average debt level for graduates was $29,400, a 25% increase over the amount of debt graduates carried in 2008.

To make matters worse, according to a 2014 Accenture college graduate employment survey, 41% of recent college graduates are earning $25,000 or less.

Although even with a degree many recent college grads can’t find work, the unemployment situation may ease a bit, if job creation forecasts are any indication.

Job creation forecasts show hope

In “Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020,” a study released by the Center on Education and the Workforce of Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, the U.S. economy will grow to 165 million jobs by 2020. This is a nearly 18% increase over the number in 2012.

During this time period there will be 55 million job openings as a result of baby boomers retiring and the creation of new positions.

Of the upcoming job openings:

36% will not require any education beyond high school

35% will require at least a bachelor’s degree

30% will require an associate’s degree or some college

If the total number of jobs are broken down by occupation, these are the ones in which workers are least likely to need a college degree. The numbers are the percentages of the total number of jobs that only will require a high school diploma or less.

  • Health care support: 42%
  • Transportation and utilities services: 45%
  • Manufacturing 47%
  • Leisure and hospitality: 50%
  • Food and personal services: 57%
  • Construction: 63%
  • Natural resources: 66%
  • Blue collar trades: 66%

No college degree required for these good jobs

Among some of the specific jobs that only require a high school diploma – according to analysis by that was included in an August website article – are:

  • Transportation, storage and distributions managers. Median hourly pay: $39.27
  • Gaming managers. Median hourly pay: $31.99
  • Real estate broker. Median hourly pay: $29.48
  • Construction and extraction worker supervisor. Median hourly pay: $29.20
  • Legal support workers. Median hourly pay: $26.97
  • Postal service mail carriers. Median hourly pay: $26.75

Although these jobs don’t formally require more than a high school diploma, some jobs do require on-the-job training or participation in an apprenticeship program. The advantage is that the training is a part of paid employment, unlike a college or even a community college education. And the effort will often result in steady, well paying jobs that, for the most part, are expected to remain in demand.

Visit your nearest American Job Center to find out more about the training and apprenticeship programs your area.


Back on Track LA receives Second Chance Act funding

Graphic courtesy Johnson County Justice Center, Iowa City, Iowa.

Graphic courtesy Johnson County Justice Center, Iowa City, Iowa.

The California Attorney General’s Office has been awarded nearly $750,000 in federal grant funds for Back on Track LA, a recidivism reduction pilot program. The program is one of only four in the nation to receive the funding, granted through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Second Chance Act.

Back on Track LA, being developed by the California Department of Justice, has been designed to deliver critical educational and comprehensive re-entry services pre- and post-release.

It will build on the L.A. Sheriff Department’s Education Based Incarceration Program by working in partnership with several educational institutions. One of these, the Five Keys Charter School – established in 2003 in San Francisco as the nation’s first charter school to operate within a county jail and now with a site in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department – will be geared towards those without a high-school diploma or GED.

Others, Los Angeles Mission College and Los Angeles Trade-Technical College in the Los Angeles Community College District and College of the Canyons in the Santa Anita Community College District, will provide higher education opportunities that include prerequisites for community college degrees, credentials and certificates.

Among other partners are the Ford Foundation, Rosenberg Foundation, California Community Foundation, California Wellness Foundation and the California Endowment.

Program participants – non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual crime offenders between 18 and 30 years old who are incarcerated in the LASD jail system – will be enrolled in the Back on Track LA pilot program for 24 to 30 months. Twelve to18 of these months will be while they are in custody and 12 months while out of custody.

“As the largest Probation Department in the nation, we are pleased to partner in the Back on Track LA program which will allow us to have further impact on the transition of inmates back in to the community by offering case management services directly inside the custody setting such as cognitive behavioral therapy and other mental health services,” said L.A.’s Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers when the announcement was made late last month. “Upon release, the probation team will also be able to assist in linking inmates to additional services in the community.”

The Second Chance Act, signed into law in 2008, provides funds to improve outcomes for those previously incarcerated as they reintegrate into their communities. Through a competitive grant process, this legislation authorizes federal grants to government and nonprofit agencies working to reduce recidivism by those returning to local communities from prison, jails and juvenile facilities.

Back on Track LA follows in the footsteps of a San Francisco program with the same name created in 2005 by former San Francisco District Attorney and current California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Developed for certain low-level, non-violent drug offenders, it reduced recidivism among its graduates to less than 10 percent over a two-year period.

In November 2013, Attorney General Harris also established the California Division of Recidivism Reduction and Re-Entry, an office designed to curb recidivism in the state by partnering with counties and district attorneys on best practices and policy initiatives.

The new division is tasked with the development of a statewide definition of recidivism, identifying grants to fund the creation and expansion of innovative anti-recidivism programs and using technology to facilitate more effective data analysis and recidivism metrics.


Project Rebound helps formerly incarcerated get college education

rebound_homeLack of an education is one of a multitude of barriers that those coming out of jail or prison face. A college degree may seemingly be out of reach for many ex-offenders, but not those who participate in San Francisco State University’s Project Rebound.

This innovative program has a long history and a bright future as a blueprint for similar endeavors elsewhere.

It was founded in 1967 by John Irwin, who, after a five year stint at Soledad Prison, went to college, earned a PhD and became a noted sociologist and San Francisco State professor. He also saw the need to create a means of helping other ex-offenders get  — or complete — an education post-release.

Program has helped hundreds

With the vision of turning former prisoners to scholars, Project Rebound, now part of Associated Students Inc., the student government organization, has helped hundreds of formerly incarcerated people earn four-year degrees.

In the past eight years alone, since current Executive Director Jason Bell took over, more than 100 people have graduated from San Francisco State and more than 300 have been admitted as part of the program. Getting into San Francisco State is not easy for many applicants, but it can be especially difficult for those just out of prison, since they may have a lot of gaps in their educational experience.

Part of special admissions 

To help them, Project Rebound acts as part of a special admissions program. “They have admissions assigned to special caseloads,” Bell says. “We do additional advocacy for our students, just like is done for athletes and international students. Sometimes, if the person is outright denied at first, we can fight for them.”

In fact, that happens quite a lot, he adds. He and his staff of four – all formerly incarcerated themselves — recruit potential students by visiting local jails and prisons like San Quentin, where they talk to inmates and distribute fliers.

The program has become so well known that Bell says they get letters from every prison in California and also from some out of state, since California is sending some of its prisoners to out-of-state facilities in the name of population reduction.

Sometimes Bell’s staff corresponds with prisoners for years before they get out, helping them prepare the way for their future education. “Many of them can go straight into San Francisco State within months, or within the same year, of getting out,” he says. Once the program participants are admitted to S.F. State, they get special assistance with such things as lunches and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) passes, as well as $200 for books, all thanks to grants from such outside funders as the Columbia Foundation and the Registry Foundation.

Interns work one-on-one with Project Rebound students

S.F. State student interns – 40 in the second semester of 2013 – work one-on-one with Project Rebound students to help them navigate the system when they’re new and connect them with tutors and other services to help them succeed.

Although due to a lack of resources, the program does not offer any job placement, but Bell says that recently he’s been getting emails from ex-offender friendly employers who are interested in allowing people a fair chance at employment.

Over its nearly half century of existence, Project Rebound has changed the lives of more people than it can count. And it will achieve an even wider reach by assisting other colleges that want to launch similar programs. Bell and his team helped New Jersey’s Rutgers University establish a program about five years ago, and are working with Cal State University Fullerton and San Diego State University on a similar effort to help formerly incarcerated individuals in southern California get a college education. For more information contact:

Project ReboundAssociated Students Inc.
Cesar Chavez Student Center
1650 Holloway Avenue, T-138
San Francisco, CA 94132-1722
(415) 405-0954, FAX: (415) 338-0522

Struggle to restore federal Pell Grants to inmates continues

While giving inmates access to higher education should be a no brainer, it’s become an uphill battle. Take, for example, the struggle to restore Pell Grants to those in prison.

Before 1995, prisoners had access to Pell Grants, federal financial aid packages that are awarded to students from low-income families and don’t have to be repaid. The passage of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, however, changed all that and prevented giving Pell Grants to prisoners.

According to a Quick & the Ed blog article of Nov. 5 by Education Sector Policy Analyst Sarah Rosenberg, before 1995 there were about 350 college programs for prisoners in the U.S. In 2005 there were 12.

While the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant is currently $5,500, the average cost of incarcerating a prisoner is about ten times that.

Many studies have shown that education, especially post-secondary education, plays a vital role in reducing recidivism, saving the federal government and the states millions of dollars each year.

Although these grants may not pay the entire cost of a higher education in prison, they would go a long way towards supporting the programs. And even in 1994 at the height of the program, awards to prisoners represented only one-tenth of 1 percent of all Pell Grants given out.

Leading the charge to restore the Pell Grants to prisoners is the Education From the Inside Coalition based in the New York City area.

The coalition organized “Pell Grants and Prison Education: How Pell Grant Access in Prison Transforms Lives,” a panel discussion at Rutgers University in early December.

The restoration of the Pell Grants to prisoners is “one of the most important dialogues we can have in the context of law enforcement. I think that education in our prisons is the key to preventing recidivism,” said John J. Farmer, Jr., Dean of the Rutgers School of Law and former New Jersey attorney general, as reported in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange blog article of Dec. 10.

According to Education from the Inside Coalition, every dollar invested in correctional education programs saves two dollars in prevented recidivism.

Not only will restoring Pell Grant eligibility to inmates reduce recidivism, it will also increase employment rates after release, strengthen communities, reduce poverty and improve mental health.

For more information, visit Education From the Inside Out at

To sign a petition supporting the restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for prisoners, go to