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Restore Pell Grants for Incarcerated Students: Briefing with Rep. Danny Davis and Jose Woss

Listen to the Recording

September 11, 2019

This fall Congress has a chance do do something life-changing: restore access to Pell Grans for incarcerated students. On September 10, 2019, FCNL hosted a special briefing with Rep. Danny Davis (IL-07) and José Woss, FCNL’s legislative manager for criminal justice.

Listen to the recording to learn about upcoming opportunities to restore dignity and opportunity to people who are incarcerated, and actions you can take to advance political change.

Restoring Pell Grants in Prisons

The U.S. Senate and House are considering large, comprehensive bills to reauthorize education programs—the Higher Education Act or HEA. The legislation includes a policy dealing with Pell Grants.

The Pell Grant program provides federal financial aid for low-income college students across the country. The program, which opens up doors for students to pursue higher education, is currently banned from prisons.

Lifting the ban and giving people access to education is the right thing to do. Congress has introduced a bill, the bipartisan REAL Act (H.R.2168 /S.1074), which would restore access to Pell Grants. We hope it will be passed as part of the HEA.


Rep. Danny Davis (IL-07) and José Woss

L-R: Rep. Danny Davis and José Woss

Rep. Danny Davis (IL-07)
Rep. Danny Davis represents the people of the 7th Congressional District of Illinois. He is sponsoring bipartisan legislation in the House that would restore Pell Grants for prisoners.

Rep. Davis serves on the House Ways and Means Committee. He is a member of several Congressional Caucuses including the Congressional Black Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, the Urban Caucus, the Community Health Center's Caucus, the Congressional Sugar Caucus, the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys and Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Re-entry.

José Santos Woss
José is FCNL's Legislative Manager for Criminal Justice and Election Integrity. He leads our work on criminal justice reform, campaign finance reform (election integrity), and police militarization. He helps to lead the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, an alliance of more than 40 national faith groups advocating to end mass incarceration.


Update Restoring Access to Education in Prisons 

Updated Oct. 29, 2019

In the 1990’s leaders in Washington, D.C. sought to increase punitive sentences and address crime through harsh punishment. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-322) increased prison sentences, created incentives for states to build new prisons, and strengthened laws that made the incarcerated serve more of their sentence before their release. The law also eliminated Pell Grants in prisons.

Background Support For the REAL Act is Everywhere 

The REAL Act is a bipartisan bill that seeks to restore access to Pell Grants for incarcerated individuals. Ending this ban would help to unlock the potential of incarcerated individuals across the nation and help them to achieve personal and career success, while simultaneously lowering the societal costs of recidivism. Below are quotes of support from lawmakers, the secretary of education, and activists from across the political spectrum as well as individuals who benefited from Pell Grants while incarcerated.