Last night the President, at last, signed the omnibus spending and COVID relief bill into law. The insidious provision of the ’94 Crime Bill — that revoked modest student aid from incarcerated people and eviscerated college-in-prison instantly — has been reversed.
Since the ‘94 Bill, restoration of Pell eligibility in prison has been the North Star for our field. The new legislation restores the possibility of college-in-prison nationally. It is a victory decades in the making.
Pell won’t restore college in every prison, nor will it make college-in-prison everything it needs to be. There will be colleges that rush substandard programs into the field, taking advantage of the easy funding. There will be the need for philanthropic, local, and state investment — just like there was in states across the country until ’94. BPI will still need your support (for us, it won’t make much difference, we were part of a small group of colleges that piloted the return of Pell over the past few years). But, what the return of Pell does do is make college-in-prison possible everywhere.
After 20 years of BPI, we are no longer a political pariah or even an outlier. College-in-prison will be the new normal. Now, it is our job to define what that means.
At the end of an impossibly hard year, at last, we have something extraordinary to celebrate.
We have colleagues to cheer.
Please join me in congratulating everyone who has struggled since 1995, inside of prisons and out, to fight for dignity, education, and opportunity for incarcerated people.
Now, let’s get back to work building colleges that meet the capacity and ambition of people in American prisons nationwide. The hardest work comes next.