A Second Chance for an Education

The Obama Administration is committed to creating a fairer, more effective criminal justice system. We want to lessen the impact of mass incarceration on our communities and help the men and women who rejoin society from our jails and prisons to build successful, crime-free lives.

Today, we’re announcing the selection of 67 postsecondary institutions to participate in the Second Chance Pell Program, which will evaluate the impact that Pell Grants have in helping incarcerated men and women pursue and attain a high-quality postsecondary education.

In total, nearly 12,000 students at more than a hundred federal and state correctional institutions will access approximately $30 million in Pell Grants, across 27 states in every region of the country.

Through both classroom and online instruction, eligible students in these programs can get associate and bachelor’s degrees, technical certificates in areas like welding, carpentry, and non-technical certificates in fields like business administration and marketing.

Right now, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world with more than 2.2 million prisoners and as President Barack Obama has noted, for the money this country currently spends on prison, we could provide universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old in America, or double the salary of every high school teacher in the country.

According to a 2014 study funded by the Department of Justice and conducted by the RAND Corporation, incarcerated individuals who participated in high-quality correctional education at all levels were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who didn’t participate in any education programs.

Reducing recidivism will make our communities safer and save taxpayers’ money and the Second Chance Pell program is a step in the right direction, but it is not the entire solution. We need to rethink our policies that determine student access and success in higher education.

We all agree that crime must have consequences. But the men and women who have done their time and paid their debt deserve the opportunity to break with the past and forge new lives in their homes, workplaces and communities. And, helping incarcerated men and women to gain new knowledge, skills, and credentials increases their chance of living successful lives, saves public dollars, and makes our communities—and our country—safer and stronger.

Our belief in second chances is fundamental to who we are as Americans.


  1. This is good news. Who is eligible to participate and where does one go to sign-up for the program?

  2. What about the was incarcerated who has a hard time presently seeking a job however their non-violent background stops them getting a job? The person has finished out their parole and have led a productive life style. when one mistake a person has made and have stayed out of trouble will there or is there help for people like thia?

  3. I was led to believe incarceration was to benefit society, to remove the perpetrator from the public as opposed to a form of punitive sentence (prison officials care to comment or add to this on a legal sense?) Just as the famous story of the horse thief who complained of his stiff sentence of hanging for “merely being a thief”, the judge answered “you are not being hanged for being a thief, this punishment is to ensure it does not happen again” I paraphrase. Mean Joe Green wants prison reform and wants the convict to be able to learn a trade and receive at least a rudimentary education: this I too believe. To offer a trade, a means of livelihood to these criminals is in no way coddling them, in fact I would bet money on the recidivism rate on their re-entry to prison lowered greatly. I do believe prisoners could also benefit, and society as a whole from this idea, as well as prisoners being taught some sort of “gentility” class – really! a sort of “charm school” to learn how to act in pleasant society, to do away with the vulgar terms and idioms such as “snitches get stitches” that sort of life style. The sort of false machismo, the bizarre and stultifying “prison rules” must go from their vocabulary. ANY kind of education for prisoners is a wonderful idea, but on the other hand, knowing how our government implements public-private partnerships, this could end up being a bamboozle and boondoggle for corporations promising big results in exchange for that fat govt grant gravy train. This could ONLY work if it is run as a State program using State money being run by State employees. Once it’s turned into a grants machine, all motivation for it’s pure intent is gone!

  4. The true success to any program is measured mostly by the numbers you attach to or extrapolate from the process. Using data for programs, initiatives and policy creation help substantiate and/or support continued existence or a change in course. Deciding what to include in those analytics are equally important. For that reason, I think we should add “selected for federal employment” as one of the outputs or outcomes. I would like to challenge the honorable Dr. John King and President Barak Obama to ensure that these programs not only successful locally, but that the Federal Government has bought into the idea and agrees to be the best practice or catalyst for the rest of America to follow suite in giving people a second chance. We pump millions into programs that are aimed to assist the offender or ex offender. We ask local and state businesses/agencies respectively, to give these returning citizens a fighting chance at employment by banning the box or providing education or a trade but then refuse to employ them. If the federal government refuses to employ these people, what are you expecting from state and local governments? The federal government continues to push this agenda on “the people” but remain sovereign by not employing the very people they’ll spend millions on rehabilitating. Do you not believe in the success of your program? Do you not believe that people are rehabilitated? Do you not believe that people want to do right when given the tools and opportunity? It’s time for the federal government to put its money where its mouth is and hire people who has spent time in corrections AND has made significant strides to overcome those barriers faced after confinement. Ensure that federal government is not exempt in giving chances.

  5. I see the benefit of this. However…

    I feel overlooked. I believe I am eligible for Pell…but have not been able to try to take advantage of it: for many years I have been unemployed, and homeless. They have shelter and housing…

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