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White House to restore Pell grants to prisoners

By Amy R. Connolly
White House to restore Pell grants to prisoners
President Barack Obama delivers remarks to 130 college-bound students from across the country during the first lady's 2015 Beating the Odds Summit in the East Room at the White House on July 23. The White House is expected to announce Friday a plan that would allow prisoners access to Pell Grants for college. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, July 29 (UPI) -- The Obama administration plans to extend Pell grants to some federal and state prison inmates taking college courses in a broader push to reduce national recidivism rates and overhaul the criminal justice system.

The plan, which will likely be announced Friday, is being hailed by inmate advocacy groups as a breakthrough, while at the same time being chided as yet another overreach by President Obama and a means to "penalize hardworking Americans."

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"The Obama administration's governing strategy is simple: Identify people who have broken the law, reward them with taxpayer dollars and penalize hardworking Americans," said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who plants to reintroduce the "Kids Before Cons Act" to counter Obama's plan.

"Americans won't tolerate putting criminals' educations before the millions of hardworking students struggling to obtain a college education," he said.

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Created in 1972, Pell grants award federal dollars to students who show financial need and meet other criteria. The grant covers up to $5,775 a year in education expenses, including books and classes. In 1994, Congress passed legislation that banned federal student aid to prisoners in state or federal institutions.

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The White House can not lift the ban without congressional approval, but it plans to use a provision of the Higher Education Act that allows federal officials to temporary make changes to the way federal aid is doled out to study the effectiveness.

The plan would only allow Pell grants to a limited number of inmates for a limited time period. Data will be collected to provide further information about the education link to recidivism.

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Monday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hinted the administration is "developing experimental sites" that would make Pell grants available to "incarcerated adults seeking an independent, productive life after they get out of jail."

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