Starting next month, the federal government will expand the Pell Grant program, granting thousands of Arizona inmates an opportunity for higher education.
This latest development is part of an ongoing effort to provide incarcerated individuals with the chance to pursue higher educationa move that local advocate Damond Holt, the founder of Fresh Start International, praises.
“Education, education, education is huge when it comes to giving them the skillsets,” said Holt.
Effective July 1st, eligibility for the Pell Grant will be extended to individuals in prison, putting an end to the nearly 30-year ban on granting Pell Grants to inmates. This represents a significant shift in the country’s approach to prisoner rehabilitation.
“I always said the prison system, we call it the Department of Corrections and the question is what the heck do you correct?” Holt remarked.
Holt’s non-profit organization focuses on reducing recidivism and assisting former inmates in reintegrating into society.
He began this work three years ago, driven by his personal experience of growing up without a father due to incarceration.
“I know firsthand what it’s like to grow up in society and in a single-parent household impacted by incarceration,” he explained. “I have also witnessed the effects of prison and incarceration on individuals.”
The Pell Grant program offers need-based financial aid to low-income students, and with this expansion, over 760,000 inmates will become eligible, according to the Department of Educationan advancement Holt sees as a step in the right direction.
“Its awesome because it increases there self-value, their self esteem. It kind of helps them to shake that stigma of being a felon and they can restart their life,” Holt said.
However, the expansion of the Pell Grant program is not without opposition. In 2015, a limited number of Pell Grants were granted to prisoners through executive action by the Obama administration, a move that faced opposition from some who advocated for improvements to re-entry programs instead.