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The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act:

The Restoring Education and Learning Act of 2015 would re-grant Pell Grant eligibility for students in prison. Introduced by U.S. Representative Donna Edwards on May 21st, with the support of Reps. Danny K. Davis (IL-7), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-3), Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-3), and Cedric L. Richmond (LA-2).

In 2016 Senator Brian Schatz introduced the companion bill to the REAL Act. The bill has the support of 9 co-sponsors and has been referred to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee for review.

What it would do:

If passed, the REAL Act would decrease reliance on public assistance, increase employment rates, improve physical and mental health, elevate the quality of life for children, not to mention strengthen communities in the process. All by allowing Pell grant access to qualified incarcerated students across the country.

These were benefits the U.S. government offered to incarcerated individuals until a “tough on crime” agenda swept the US legislature in the mid-1990s. That is when the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act sealed their fate, excluded them from Pell grant access, and dramatically reduced in-prison education programs from 350 to just 12 by 2005, according to Education Sector Policy Analyst Sarah Rosenberg.

However what legislators failed to see at the time, is that dismantling higher education by eliminated incarcerated students’ eligibility for Pell Grants didn’t only punish the incarcerated, but it punished America.

Education is proven to lower recidivism, which would lower the roughly $68 billion correctional cost footed largely by taxpayer’s every year. Studies show that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, two dollars are saved through prevented recidivism. Meaning not only does it allow individuals and their communities back home to have a better quality of life, but it saves the taxpayer money in the process.


What You Can Do:

  • Contact your Representative and express your support for the REAL Act, H.R. 2521 and S. 3122. Find your Representatives here.  Use the following template  as a guide on how-to write your Representative.
  • Join the EIO Coalition in our fight for the passage of H.R. 2521 and S. 3122! Sign up to become a member today!
  • Sign the petition .
  • Share your story with Education from the Inside Out Coalition. We are asking members and supporters to create a video detailing why Pell Grant eligibility should be reinstated. Film a video and send it to For a guide on how to create a short video click here:
  • Use social media to generate awareness about the REAL Act. Use the hashtag #GETREAL when tweeting. Follow us on twitter EIO_Coalition and Like Us on Facebook to stay updated and informed.
  • Look out for the Education from the Inside Out Coalition National Organizing toolkit with tips on how to organize your community to support the REAL Act
  • Contact Congresswoman Donna Edwards and thank her for taking bold action to reinstate Pell grants for incarcerated Americans. Share you story with her and tell her what post-secondary education means to you. Contact her by sending a letter to her Washington, D.C. Office 2445 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515


Read Rep. Edwards’ Press Release here:

“I thank my colleagues for joining me in this important legislation that will curb our nation’s high incarceration rate through education,” Edwards said. “The REAL Act is about restoring education opportunities for our nation’s prisoners so they will have the opportunity to reintegrate as productive members of the community post-incarceration. We know that helping economically challenged individuals work toward post-secondary study and training provides a better future for all Americans. We should provide such opportunities to all to ensure that the cyclical process of repeat incarceration does not continue.”


Read EIO’s Response here:

“Education has proven to reduce recidivism, and help incarcerated individuals get a leg up prior to re-entry,” said Education from the Inside Out Co-founder Vivian Nixon. “Education empowers incarcerated students with tools that will prevent them from reoffending in the future.”

121 Organizations Support the REAL Act

Letter from 121 civil rights, human rights, faith based, and criminal justice reform organizations, to express strong support for the REAL Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), which would reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for people in state and federal prisons.

Download Letter

Read Responses from Incarcerated Individuals:

“Education is the path to achieve a better quality of life, escaping a life of crime, and making a lasting change. Just the sense of accomplishment can be empowering and serve as an endless cycle of motivation to do right. Improvements made in both a personal and professional capacity can generation greater self-esteem and a valid feeling of self-worth. The time and effort invested in straining an education provides a perpetual drive for self-actualization.” continue reading Dario Ruiz’s response to the REAL Act


“They stopped buying up-to-date law books, they stopped obtaining West Texas Digest Advance Sheets, and they stopped getting tools we need to effectively fight our cases in court against the machinery of State Attorney General’s office that defends Texas Department of Criminal Justice in all avenues of the law both in lawsuits and criminal law writs. Just think about how many paralegals, clerks, secretaries, and law library resources the AG’s office has at its disposal…Prisoners do not have those same advantages. And so people want to take the only thing that will help us lead a better life? These are the people who have never experienced incarceration and are on the holier than though mindset that they feel we should be denied an opportunity to rehabilitate ourselves” continue reading Raul Tamez’s response to the REAL Act

MythBusters: How to talk about Pell

mythbusters-finalThose who oppose Pell reinstatement for incarcerated student use a few go-to talking points to vocalize their disapproval. Many people are misinformed as to how Pell Grants work, who is eligible, and what expanding eligibility means for Pell Grant funding. We created this guide to educate people so that we can have informed conversations about Pell Grant reinstatement. Download MythBusters

Want to know how much your state spending on corrections?

State’s budget have been aggressively spent on corrections while services that deter people from entering the criminal justice system have been underfunded. The Education from the Inside out Coalition believes that we should invest in education over incarceration. Want to know how much money your state is spending on corrections? Check out this detailed map created by which was created by Texas attorney David Breston and a team of designers from Safer America.