Criminal justice reform in 2021 - where we've been and where we are going
Newsletter - January 2021
2020 has been an especially challenging year for the criminal justice system with Covid. Going into 2021, the expansion of correctional education via Pell grant reform and the promises of the incoming Biden administration offer hopes for greater reforms. In this newsletter, we review the state of criminal justice reform in 2021 - where we've been and where we are going.
Pell grants are the primary public college funding available to low-income students. Since the 1994 Crime Bill, incarcerated learners were made ineligible for this college funding.
Since the passing of the Omnibus Spending and COVID-19 relief bill on 4 January 2021 by the Trump administration, Pell Grants have been restored for all incarcerated students. Now that prison education will become more affordable for low-income students, a rise in the development of prison education programs as well as other changes in the prison education system can be expected in 2021, 2022, and 2023.
Tanya Erzen examines the inequality in education and educational resources for programs developed to serve incarcerated students. Virtual learning due to the pandemic exacerbated the difference in quality of instruction and learning, leaving students enrolled in educational programs without the sufficient materials necessary to pass courses. Erzen also considers the negative impacts that the fast-moving development of these educational programs can have on the quality provided to students.
The Biden administration has pledged to reform the criminal justice system. What reforms should we expect from the incoming administration? Wanda Bertram of the Prison Policy Initiative discusses Biden's criminal justice reform platform.
Obama discusses his attempts to reform the criminal justice system during his presidency, including the Second Chance Pell grant program, which has helped set the stage for this year's full restoration of Pell grants for incarcerated learners.
Degree granting programs are an effective way to set up their graduates for a successful career after release, according to this Politico piece. The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) has inspired many alternative programs in business, leadership, and entrepreneurship available for incarcerated students. These programs, combined with the social bonds and community participation they create, are key for the creation of new opportunities upon release.
UC Irvine and the California State Prison system have begun a pilot program for incarcerated students to earn Bachelor's degrees. This program is one of a rising number of private and public universities creating degree programs for prisons across the United States. Pointing to the US Department of Justice sponsored study by the Rand Corporation, these programs are arising as a way to prevent recidivism and create accessible education within the prison system. The UC Irvine pilot is expected to roll out fully in 2022, with professors teaching four courses per semester at the prison.