The U.S. Department of Education has revamped a higher education program for prisoners, and four schools in the Commonwealth have been selected to participate. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Villanova, Bloomsburg University and the Lehigh Carbon Community College will create the curriculum to educate prisoners selected for the grants under the new Second Chance Pell Grant pilot.
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel thinks education can be the key to undoing the social conditions that led to incarceration.
“When you look at who comes in our front door, you have to see the barriers to the success that led them to commit crime.”
This particular program hopes to address the addiction, mental illness, lack of access to education and sustainable employment that often leads people to become incarcerated and fall into recidivism.
“I don’t think it’s a silver bullet, but the research has been stunning in its success,” said Wetzel. He added that throughout the pilot, the state will be tracking program statistics.
Ultimately these Pell Grants will relieve a burden on the taxpayer, Wetzel pointed out. He said it costs $42,000 a years to incarcerate one individual, not including the financial burden on social services like foster care and the juvenile criminal system.
“The return on investment is an absolute no-brainer,” said Wetzel.
Wetzel added the prison population is disproportionately composed of low-income and/or folks of color due to systemic racism and class inequality. He hopes this will be a step in undoing some of the damage inflicted before the prisoners were incarcerated.
In addition to the liberal arts angle that IUP, Villa Nova and Bloomsburg offer, Wetzel was pleased to see the selection of a community college as they teach “practical, skills to be successful in their community.”
“We’re all invested in people coming out of our prisons and being successful,” said Wetzel.
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