On Dec. 21, 2020, Congress moved to lift the ban on federal student aid – specifically, the Pell grant – for those who are incarcerated. Virginia Department of Corrections Superintendent for Education, Dr. Rodney Berry, recently shared his thoughts on the impact of this decision:
Lifting the Pell Grants ban for inmates is certainly good news for correctional educators and their students. Students who increase their education while incarcerated are less likely to return to prison. This is especially true among students who improve their critical thinking skills. Higher education coursework, which the Pell Grant will help fund, provides the greatest opportunity for students to improve their critical thinking skills.
We already have an excellent educational system, one that boasts excellent programs and partnerships. Existing efforts include an accreditation program that allows a variety of VADOC Career and Technical Education students to gain college credits. Those credits can translate into improved educational and employment success. One of our most successful partnerships connects us with Johnson Controls in an award-winning Heating and Ventilation/Air Conditioning program that allows students to learn cutting-edge techniques.
The current Pell Grant ban for inmates is not expected to end until June 2023, but we are examining this opportunity very carefully. We are currently developing a committee that will be charged to develop consistent practices across the state. This committee will be tasked with:
- Developing a uniformed and informative press release/announcement for the inmates and VADOC staff concerning the Pell Grant.
- Explaining the process of completing a FAFSA Form.
- Selecting a college program and the instructional materials and supplies needed to complete classes.
- Addressing topics related to Pell Grant expansion and its use.
This committee will not only include educational staff members such as teachers and principals, but it will also include members from our operational units to ensure collaboration and effective communication.
That being said, we were excited to be notified last May that the U.S. Department of Education announced an expansion in Virginia of the Second Chance Pell Grant that positively affected a couple of the community colleges we work with — Southside Virginia Community College and Piedmont Virginia Community College. Therefore, with the increase in grant funding we will be able to offer additional opportunities for students at VCCW, Nottoway, Lunenburg, Baskerville, Buckingham Dillwyn, Fluvanna, and possibly Greensville until the nationwide Pell Grant ban for inmates is lifted in 2023.
Pell Grants for inmate students will allow those students to gain all-important critical thinking skills and keep them on a good path. Ultimately, we all benefit.