Three Washington colleges chosen for inmate Pell grant program
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Three community colleges in Washington will participate in a new
federal project aimed at helping prisoners learn, find work and stay out of prison
after their release. The pilot program announced today by the U.S. Department of Education will allow Tacoma Community College, Centralia College and Seattle Central College to provide federal financial aid to eligible inmates for in-prison associate
The three colleges already partner with private or nonprofit institutions to offer associate degrees at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, the Cedar Creek Corrections Center and the Monroe Correctional Complex. However inmates have been ineligible to receive federal financial aid – Pell grants – to pay for education programs since Congress enacted a nationwide ban in 1994. The pilot program reinstates Pell grants for 67 colleges nationwide, including those in Washington, to gather data and give prisoners a second chance. Prisoners must be eligible for release within five years of enrolling in coursework.
The federal funding complements two initiatives already underway in Washington. In April, Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order directing state agencies to implement policies aimed at helping released prisoners stay out of prison, find careers and contribute back to their families and communities.
Meanwhile, the state supplemental budget passed by the Legislature during the 2016 session allows the state Department of Corrections to use public funds to offer associate degree programs in prison along with the traditional basic education and vocational programs. The authority will remain in effect for one year until it is re-established in the next state budget. The Department of Corrections has already targeted $974,534 to support education programs through its contract with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
“Keeping people and communities safe extends past prisons. Those re-entering society also need the tools to become good neighbors and contributing members of their communities again,” said Inslee.
Research shows people who get an education while incarcerated are much less likely to return to prison after release than those who don’t get an education. A 2014 Rand Corporation report found that inmates who participated in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who did not.
“Education is a catalyst for success. That’s what these folks need,” said Mike Paris,
education services administrator for the Department of Corrections. “They need success.
They need to demonstrate to themselves that they can be successful. If they have the
educational background, they can be part of mainstream society.”
Nationally, the 67 selected colleges and universities will partner with 141 federal and state penal institutions to enroll roughly 12,000 incarcerated students in educational and training programs.
“Education opens up a whole new world for released inmates,” said Marty Brown, executive director for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. “It’s a second chance to get things right. Our colleges are proud to play a role in their transformation.”
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, issued a statement supporting the pilot project: “This is about giving people who have paid their debts to society a meaningful second chance. This pilot program will help give individuals the opportunity to turn their lives around by entering higher education and pursuing a job to support themselves, and to avoid falling back into the criminal justice system."
Department of Corrections communications director – Jeremy Barclay, firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 515-6661
SBCTC communications director – Laura McDowell, email@example.com or (360) 704-4310