United States Department of Education update.
The Incarcerated Youth Offender Program, as it has most often been called, was created shortly after inmates were denied access to Pell grants. It is a more limited and restricted post secondary funding source. The specific limitations and restrictions built into this program have remained unchanged since the program's creation. As these elements were built into the authorizing legislation, we could do little in the Department of Education to respond to concerns about these restrictions brought to us by State staff. Realizing this, practitioners worked with one another and through the Correctional Education Association to reach members of Congress and their staffers to share their concerns and to make suggestions for reform.
This summer Congress passed and the President signed into law a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act significantly revising provisions of the "Youth Offender Program." In fact, the changes are so extensive that the current name is obsolete. New provisions significantly increase the age of participant eligibility, so the term "Incarcerated Individuals" will replace "Incarcerated Youth Offenders" in the title. (There will still be an age restriction--35 rather than 25.)
Most notable among the changes are increased flexibility granted to State staff in 1) selecting program participants (based on both age and time before release eligibility), 2) setting the amount to be spent per student per year on the instructional program and 3) establishing the length of time students with diplomas may participate in developmental (non-credit) courses. While these changes all increase State flexibility, one provision included will restrict it. States will no longer be allowed to use these funds to serve persons convicted of certain specified offenses (sex offenses and murder).
And speaking of sex offenders, readers of this column may have noted publicity related to a new provision in the Higher Education Act extending the ban on Pell grants for prisoners to include persons involuntary confined in "civil commitment centers." In some States, sex offenders who have completed a criminal sentence but who are determined to constitute a danger to the community may be involuntarily housed in a civil commitment center. While we hear discussions from time to time about restoring Pell grant eligibility to inmates, it is sobering to note that the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in 2008 actually extends that ban to residents of an additional category of facility. (Detention center residents and residents of half way houses remain Pell grant eligible.)
A surprising and challenging provision of this legislation is a call on our agency to conduct a study of postsecondary correctional education. The study is to consider a range of outcomes related to post secondary education program participation during incarceration, to consider various delivery systems for post secondary education during the period of incarceration, and to examine the cost benefit of correctional post secondary education. Explanatory language in the House and Senate conference committee report specified that strengthened Youth Offender Program outcome reporting requirements are intended to support this study and make it possible to document the benefits of post secondary education with the correctional population.
The passage of this bill certainly challenges us here, as well as those directly involved in the implementation of the Incarcerated Youth Offender grant services in the States. Carlette Huntley has recently accepted a promotional opportunity elsewhere in the Department of Education, leaving the Office of Vocational and Adult Education. Carlette worked with me on this grant program since I joined the Department in 2001, so her expertise and work will be sorely missed, particularly at this challenging time. Hopefully, we will have news of new staff assignments to share soon.
In prior years, my column in the fall edition of the Journal provided an opportunity to share experiences at the annual CEA International Conference in July. Because of Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, I have reluctantly forgone that opportunity. Even so, I feel compelled to say that the conference venue again provided me with important opportunities to share information, learn about important developments in our field, and consultant with correctional education practitioners. My compliments and thanks to the Denver program committee, to the Association officers and staff who supported this effort, and to the presenters and participants who made the conference a success! Thank you.
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|Publication:||Journal of Correctional Education|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2008|
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