The U.S. Department of Education has selected Chemeketa to be one of just 67 colleges and universities across the country to test whether expanding incarcerated individuals’ access to financial aid will increase their participation in education programs. The experiment is called the Second Chance Pell grant program.
“We were selected because Chemeketa has a long and successful history of providing educational programs in Oregon’s correctional institutions,” said Jonathan Tucker, executive director of corrections education at the college.
Chemeketa offers the only complete college degree program for incarcerated individuals in Oregon. Currently over 175 students at two prisons are involved. The college estimates the recidivism rate among its graduates to be 6%. Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission reports that of felons released from prison in 2012, 40% were convicted of a new crime within three years.
“Access to Pell grants will help reduce the financial barriers that prevent our population from educational opportunities to build their confidence, learn skills or a trade and be better equipped to succeed outside,” said Tucker.
A 2013 study from the RAND Corporation, funded by the Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.
A 1994 Congressional change to the Higher Education Act eliminated Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals in federal and state penal institutions. Under the Second Chance Pell grant program, the Secretary of Education will waive existing financial aid rules that prohibit otherwise eligible students who are incarcerated from accessing Pell grants.