Economic Alliance Supports Bipartisan Bill to Increase Postsecondary Education for Incarcerated Individuals

Jun 01, 2020

Criminal justice reform is often a public policy topic that creates interest among a wide range of organizations and advocacy groups. In recent years, the Economic Alliance has advocated for policies that remove barriers to employment including those that prepare ex-offenders for successful reentry to Iowa communities and employment. It is why we support federal legislation called the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act. This bipartisan bill is aimed at supporting access to postsecondary education for incarcerated individuals by making them eligible to receive federal Pell Grants. Legislation passed by Congress in 1994 eliminated Pell Grant eligibility for anyone incarcerated in state or federal penal institutions.

The benefits of the REAL Act to employers and our communities are significant. From a public safety perspective, incarcerated people who engage in postsecondary education programs are 48% less likely to commit crimes again once released. These dollars spent in prison-based education yield taxpayer savings in the form of reduced recidivism and incarceration costs.

Of course, there is a workforce benefit if incarcerated Iowans have access to education. The Iowa Department of Corrections has partnered with local community colleges and universities to offer postsecondary education opportunities. The training and education provided to inmates is often focused in areas where there is a workforce need. Credit-bearing certificate programs in carpentry, welding and supply chain management are examples of that coursework in Iowa—some of which is delivered through laptops and other technology supportive of distance learning - now more relevant than ever.

Most Iowans who commit crimes and become incarcerated are going to re-enter society at some point in the future. If those individuals choose to take classes while still in prison, as part of preparing for a new future, that education will benefit not only that individual, but the family and the community to which they return. Iowa businesses will also benefit from those that come back into the workforce trained, grateful and ready to get started. The REAL Act makes sense and we’ll be engaging our Congressional delegation on the topic. Read the bill in its entirety at

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