Business Forward has joined more than 120 other public and private organizations in support of The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act, which would reinstate Pell grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals in federal and state prisons. We understand that directing education dollars toward prisons is controversial, but the economic benefits of educating our incarcerated population are significant.

In 1994, incarcerated people lost access to Pell grants, which provide need-based support for post-secondary education. Restoring Pell grant access for prisoners will help them re-enter society, improve their employment opportunities, lower recidivism, and strengthen America’s workforce. 

If Pell grant eligibility is restored, employment rates of former prisoners could increase by 10 percent, raising earnings for the recently released by more than $45 million in the first year. States could save an average $7.6 million in incarceration costs per year. If half of the incarcerated Pell-eligible population participates in postsecondary education, states would save a total $365.8 million per year.

The REAL Act was introduced by Senators Schatz, Lee, and Durbin; it is co-sponsored by Republican Senators Cramer, Lankford and Wicker, and Democratic Senators Brown, Murphy, and Leahy. In the House, the legislation has more than 10 cosponsors from both major parties.

The widespread support from business leaders, justice communities, and major employers is remarkable. Endorsements include the Business Roundtable, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Brennan Center for Justice, Equal Justice Initiative, Verizon, and JPMorgan Chase. Each agrees with Senator Schatz’s argument that “if we’re serious about enabling people to pay their debt to society and re-enter their community and have a fighting shot, that statistically speaking higher education is bar none the best strategy.”