“He who opens a school door closes a prison.”
Spring 2021 is a time of triumph and hope for UW’s students in prison. After enduring outbreaks of COVID-19, long periods of lockdown and the suspension of classes, things are starting to open back up again. The infection rates are dropping and students have been relieved to return to the classroom to finish their courses. Instruction is still provided remotely through Zoom and other technologies, but we hope to see our students in person again someday soon.
Another reason for optimism is the momentous restoration of federal Pell Grant eligibility for students in prison. Pell Grants are a major source of funding for higher education, and when incarcerated students lost the eligibility to receive them in 1994, college programs in prison dwindled nationally. Though the restoration of eligibility is not immediate, we look forward to a time when our students can use Pell Grants to support their academic journeys.
Lastly, we are excited to see Governor Evers include $5 million in his budget proposal for UW System’s efforts to provide education and employable skills to more students in prison. This funding would allow the university to do its part in preparing incarcerated individuals to pursue their academic goals and succeed when they return to their communities. Student success means fewer people returning to prison, more stable families, safer neighborhoods and less cost to taxpayers. The state budget is now in the hands of the Legislature. While policymakers have expressed early and broad enthusiasm for the UW System initiative, the Legislature is tasked with addressing an array of fiscal challenges. Your voice is important, so please ask your legislator to support this funding and the benefits it will bring. You can find your legislator and their contact information by entering your street address under “Who Are My Legislators?” on the Legislature’s homepage. Thank you!
Director, Odyssey Beyond Bars
Co-founder, UW Coalition for Higher Education in Prison