The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PC(U.S.A.)) has a long-standing history of engagement around criminal justice reform. In 1988, the 200th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a statement calling for “changing a prison system that is based on the concept of punishment to one that encourages the restoration of incarcerated citizens…” For that restoration to be possible, it is imperative that incarcerated citizens have access to the resources needed to re-enter society and be successful, including funding for education.
On April 09, 2019, Senators Brian Schatz (HI), Mike Lee (UT) and Richard Durbin (IL) introduced S. 1074, The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act. This bill seeks to reinstate Pell grant eligibility to incarcerated citizens, which provides financial support to low-income students. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) applauds this bipartisan effort and supports passage of this bill. Pell grant eligibility was revoked in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and must be restored.
Restoring pell grants eligibility will make higher education accessible for incarcerated citizens, many of whom are first-generation college students. Earning a post-secondary degree reduces recidivism rates as well as increases employment options for formerly incarcerated citizens. Studies have found that the average recidivate rate for people who participate in postsecondary education programs while in prison is at least 30 percent less than people who do not participate in such programs. Additionally, according to a report by the Vera Institute of Justice and Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, “with greater access to education in prison, formerly incarcerated people would reenter the labor market with competitive skills and qualifications, leading to higher rates of employment and increased earnings.” State employment rates of formerly incarcerated workers with post-secondary education would increase by nearly 10 percent.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) greatly appreciates this bipartisan effort and its cosponsors. Our current criminal justice system is built on vengeance and punishment. We believe our justice system should seek to rehabilitate, not simply penalize offenders. Now, more than ever, this nation needs lawmakers who will put aside partisan politics in order to find solutions to shared problems. Further, the PC(U.S.A.) supports passage and swift enactment of the REAL ACT.