Whether prison is for punishment or rehabilitation often drives the discussion about access to education in jail. Proponents say college classes for people in prison significantly increase their chances of finding steady work after release and lessen the risk of reoffending. A 2013 study found that those enrolled in educational programs are 43 percent less likely to end up back in jail.
As policymakers in Washington and state capitals grapple with the cost, injustice, and social ills of housing the world’s largest prison population, it’s an idea that is gaining ground. An Obama-era pilot program has made Pell Grants available again to incarcerated Americans, a group that has been barred from federal aid since 1994. Some of those in the program, just finishing its second year, are graduating this month in Connecticut.