1. Background
  2. Criminal Justice

Bill Analysis: The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act

Analysis of the REAL Act

By Allison Lee, April 15, 2019


The REAL Act (H.R.2168 /S.1074) can lift the ban that keeps the incarcerated and the formerly incarcerated from reaching their full potential.

The federal Pell Grant program was established to help make higher education and technical training more accessible for millions of low-income students. Post-secondary and technical education enhance economic security and job prospects; they lower unemployment rates, increase earning potential, and expand career paths.

Legislative History and Prison Conditions

In 1994, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act amended the Higher Education Act and completely eliminated Pell Grant eligibility for people incarcerated in a state or federal facility.

As a result, the number of education programs in prisons fell from over 350 in 1990 to only 12 in 2005. The lack of educational opportunities for incarcerated people adds to challenges they face upon re-entry, such as joblessness or lack of opportunities. These challenges contribute to a cycle of poverty, recidivism, and mass incarceration.

According to a RAND study 40% of those released from prison are back in prison after three years. Education is a key problem—in state prisons, 68% of incarcerated people lack a high school diploma.

Solutions through Education and Opportunity

Restoring Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated people would improve opportunity for millions of people:

  • Studies have shown that recidivism rates drop significantly for people who earn a post-secondary degree,
  • Post-secondary education and technical training can help overcome obstacles,
  • The bill would help prepare incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to successfully reintegrate into society and the workforce.

Projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that over the next decade there will be nearly five million job openings annually for which the typical, entry-level education requirement will range from some college to a bachelors degree. Making Pell Grants available for incarcerated people will enable them to receive the education they need to fill these jobs.

The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act would improve fairness and opportunity for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people by restoring Pell Grant eligibility for people with a felony conviction.

Urge Congress: Cosponsor the REAL Act and include it in the Higher Education Act reauthorization.

Allison Lee

  • 2018 Program Assistant, Domestic Policy

Allison Lee was a FCNL Young Fellow from 2018-2019. She worked alongside José Woss on criminal justice reform, campaign finance reform (election integrity), and police militarization. Her primary responsibilities included lobbying members of Congress, writing policy updates, and conducting legislative research. She has always been very passionate about dismantling systems that promote racial disparities.