RU-N Attends Second Chance Pell Pilot Program’s Inaugural Convening

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Representatives from Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N), the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC), and Raritan Valley Community College traveled to Washington, DC, on July 19, 2016, to attend the inaugural convening of the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, which allows incarcerated students to receive federal Pell Grant funding for postsecondary education. Last month, RU-N announced that it was one of 69 colleges and universities selected to provide postsecondary education to nearly 12,000 students in more than 100 state and federal prisons nationwide. RU-N was chosen to participate in the program out of more than 200 applicants in 48 states and will administer the program through the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ-STEP) program. NJ-STEP, a statewide initiative managed by RU-N, works in partnership with the DOC, the State Parole Board, and a network of public and private, two- and four-year colleges to provide higher education courses to eligible individuals who are incarcerated in one of New Jersey’s seven correctional facilities. The inaugural convening confirmed NJ-STEP's presence on the ground floor of a movement toward justice, according to NJ-STEP Director Margaret Quern Atkins.

In 1994, Pell Grant eligibility for students in state and federal prisons was eliminated as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program to restore educational access for some of those individuals, improving their chances of successful and productive reentry after they are released.

The convening, which is hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera), features keynote presentations by Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and U.S. Department of Education Secretary John B. King, who will also moderate a panel of students describing their college experiences in prison.

During the day-long conference, postsecondary and correctional leaders from the selected pilot programs will have the opportunity to share ideas and hear from leaders in the field of correctional education in preparation for developing and implementing new programs or expanding existing ones. 

“Expanding educational opportunity for people who are incarcerated not only improves their lives, but strengthens our communities by preparing them to contribute to society rather than return to prison,” said Fred Patrick, director of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. “We are thrilled that Rutgers University–Newark is a partner in this important initiative to restore and expand access to college in prison.”

“I echo Director Patrick’s sentiments and will continue to advocate for programs like Second Chance Pell to help to create an opportunity for incarcerated individuals to turn their lives around,” remarked Todd Clear, a criminal justice professor at RU-N’s School of Criminal Justice who will oversee the program.

With support from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Vera is providing technical assistance to the selected Second Chance Pell sites as part of the Expanding Access to Postsecondary Education Project. The project aims to facilitate the implementation and scaling up of quality higher education programs in prisons and those that work with students after they return home, and to assist with the development of policies, procedures, and practices to increase the participation of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals in these programs.

Photo by Nick Romanenko of the atrium of the Center for Law and Justice at Rutgers University-Newark