OJP, Department of Education Leaders Tout Progress in Educational Opportunities for Incarcerated Individuals at American Correctional Association Conference
Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon joined top leaders from the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and the Department of Education for the Education in Corrections Symposium at the American Correctional Association Winter Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, last week. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona delivered a keynote address to help open the symposium, with Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Director Karhlton F. Moore also delivering introductory remarks.
The event featured discussions of efforts to break down barriers that divide correctional education as separate from the larger field of education. OJP has invested heavily in evolving the nation’s approach to corrections and supporting people as they return from confinement to their communities. This work includes improving the reentry potential of those currently incarcerated, issuing new Guidelines for Managing Substance Withdrawal in Jails and supporting recent research that indicates an innovative approach to prison housing is showing promise.
The symposium featured Assistant Attorney General Solomon and Assistant Secretary for Education Amy Loyd in a conversation about federal Pell Grant reinstatement for incarcerated students, moderated by BJA Second Chance Fellow Angel Sanchez. Sanchez is a formerly incarcerated person who received a Pell Grant after his release and went on to obtain his undergraduate and law degrees. He is currently working towards his L.L.M. degree at Yale Law School and serves as a visiting fellow with BJA. Solomon also participated in a roundtable with Secretary of Education Cardona, Assistant Secretary Loyd and select state correctional education leaders regarding the Department of Education’s role in supporting correctional education.
Starting in 1994, incarcerated individuals were prohibited from receiving Pell funding. Eligibility was restored when the Free Application for Federal Student Aid®, or FAFSA, Simplification Act became law in 2020, granting access to students in federal and state penal institutions, and local and juvenile correctional facilities, beginning in the 2023-2024 academic year.
“Postsecondary education improves the likelihood of reentry success. And research bears this out — it’s strongly associated with reductions in recidivism, and it pays for itself four times over,” said Assistant Attorney General Solomon. “It unlocks potential and opens the door to individual growth and development. And it has a multi-generational benefit. Kids are more likely to go to college or trade school when their parents do, so a postsecondary education can actually create a legacy of academic participation that carries over to one’s children and grandchildren.”
The conversation also covered current challenges in providing educational opportunities for justice-involved individuals and existing resources available through OJP and the Department of Education. Assistant Attorney General Solomon and Assistant Secretary Loyd discussed the history of collaboration between the two agencies, beginning with the launch of the Second Chance Pell Experiment in 2015. Second Chance Pell enlisted institutions of higher learning to partner with federal and state correctional systems to provide Pell assistance on a pilot basis. Over time, 200 colleges and universities in 48 states joined the initiative, and more than 9,000 students earned postsecondary credentials with the support of Pell Grants.
Through funding from OJP, the Vera Institute of Justice has provided technical assistance to participating colleges and corrections departments to ensure that the programs offer high-quality postsecondary education in prison and after release. Assistant Attorney General Solomon and Assistant Secretary Loyd emphasized the importance of partnering with corrections experts, formerly incarcerated students and others to build on the critical momentum that has been gained in expanding opportunities for incarcerated individuals to safely and productively reenter society.
OJP provides federal leadership, grants, training, technical assistance and other resources to improve the nation's capacity to prevent and reduce crime, advance equity and fairness in the administration of justice, assist victims and uphold the rule of law. More information about OJP and its components can be found at www.ojp.gov.