U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Monday endorsed a legislative effort backed by evangelical prison ministry Prison Fellowship to make incarcerated inmates eligible to receive federal grants for higher education.
DeVos spoke at Prison Fellowship’s Justice Declaration Symposium at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., and encouraged the group of about 80 church leaders to lobby congressional offices to support bills that would reverse a longstanding ban on inmates receiving Pell Grants.
Pell Grants are federal subsidies to help low-income students pursue higher education or vocational training. But since the passage of “tough on crime” policies in 1994, incarcerated Americans have mostly been blocked from receiving those grants.
“Education is the ticket to the future for just about anyone and everyone,” DeVos said. “So we should be embracing these opportunities for brothers and sisters who are behind bars today who will be in our communities and with their families and giving them a means for a purpose … and giving them that kind of opportunity to pursue the next right thing for themselves.”
“We all need second chances,” the 61-year-old continued. “It doesn’t matter if we are ever behind bars or not. We all make mistakes and we all need a chance to be redeemed. I think that this, from my perspective, is really a no brainer, to put it in my grandchild’s terminology.”
As criminal justice reform has increasingly become a bipartisan issue, much of the focus has been placed on initiatives to help reduce recidivism. Advocates have stressed that prisons need to do a better job teaching and preparing prisoners to live successful lives once they are released.
In April, bipartisan legislation was introduced called the REAL Act, which would reverse the two-decades-old ban on inmates using Pell Grants to receive higher education or workforce development training.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith