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PRESS RELEASE: Congress Votes to Lift Ban on Pell Grants for People in Prison

Released December 23, 2020

Contact Susan Biller

Department of Corrections

TUMWATER – On December 21, 2020, lawmakers in Congress voted to lift a 26-year-old ban on Pell Grants for people in prison. The restoration of access to Pell Grants means that incarcerated people, including those in Washington State, can once again apply for federal Pell Grants to pay for college courses.

Access to education is transformative, and this bipartisan vote will improve community safety for everyone while also opening a new chapter of opportunity for incarcerated people and their families, marking a step toward increasing equity for communities of color. The measure lifting the ban was included in Congress’ omnibus end-of-year package.

Evidence is overwhelming that access to postsecondary courses in correctional settings improves lives and communities, and has been further demonstrated by the success of the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative. The Second Chance Pell Grant experiment will likely continue until the United States Department of Education fully implements the new law, no later than July 2023.

The Washington State Department of Corrections has publicly supported the use of Pell Grants and starting this winter, Walla Walla Community College will deliver applied bachelor’s degree programs at the Washington State Penitentiary and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center with Second Chance Pell.

Secretary Stephen Sinclair released the following statement in response to this historic vote: “The Washington State Department of Corrections has been offering college courses, such as workforce certificates, to incarcerated people in Washington State since before the Pell Grant ban was instituted in 1994, and we are thrilled that Congress has voted to restore access to Pell Grants to everyone behind bars. We are excited to work with our current college partners, as well as future partnerships that can be created with this new legislation. Expanding access to postsecondary education in correctional settings provides incarcerated people with greater opportunity when they return to their families and communities, cuts state expenditures on prisons, and most importantly, is a catalyst to positively transforming lives – an integral part of our department’s mission.”