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Remarks of Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon at the Fifth Annual Convening of the Second Chance Pell Sites and Partners, Washington, DC

      Good morning.  I am so pleased to be here to help kick off today’s convening.  I want to thank Nick [Turner] for bringing us together and for the outstanding work that he and Margaret [diZerega] and the team at the Vera Institute of Justice are doing to support educational opportunities for incarcerated students.

      I also want to say “thank you” to Assistant Secretary [Amy] Loyd for her commitment to access and equity in higher education.  Amy and her team at the Department of Education have been wonderful partners.

      Our work with the Department of Education goes back more than a decade, to my time in the Obama Administration, when reentry was lifted to the top of the domestic policy agenda.  I was with the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, and we made such progress on access to healthcare, housing and employment for people coming home from prison and jail.

But one of our most significant achievements was launching Second Chance Pell.  I can remember early meetings, with many of you, in small conference rooms talking about the promise of expanded higher education in prison settings.  We could have hardly imagined where we’d be just 10 years later.

I was fortunate to be at the launch of the Second Chance Pell initiative in 2015 at the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland, along with incarcerated students and educators, advocates, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Education, as well as Dallas Pell, the daughter of the late Senator [Claiborne] Pell, who championed federal aid for needy college students, including those in prison.  It was an incredibly moving and hopeful event, and led to 67 colleges in 28 states starting Second Chance Pell sites in that first year of the program.

And the momentum has continued to build.  Just last April, I had the great pleasure of joining Secretary [Miguel] Cardona to roll out the third wave of sites, bringing the total to 203 colleges in 48 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico.  And here you are.  It is so exciting to be in the same room together.

If that weren’t enough, I am still a bit breathless with the opportunity of full-scale Pell implementation!  When Congress restored Pell grants for students in prison in December 2020, it brought such hope and promise with it.  Again, this was almost unimaginable even a few years ago.

One thing is clear:  This would not have been possible without you.  In every sense, this was a collective achievement.  The impetus for Pell reinstatement came from incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students.  And so many people – corrections officials and education professionals, reentry advocates, community organizers and so many of you – came together to see it through.  We worked together to make the case that education is key to successful reintegration, and we brought Pell grants back into the discussion after they had been off the table for more than 20 years.

Of course, there’s a strong case to be made.  We know that postsecondary education improves the likelihood of reentry success, and the research has born that out:  Studies have found that recidivism goes down when incarcerated students receive a post-secondary education, and it pays for itself four times over.

But the benefits go beyond reductions in costs and recidivism.  Higher education unlocks potential and allows people to see themselves and others in new ways.  It opens the door to individual growth and development.  And it has a multi-generational benefit.  Kids are more likely to go to college or trade school when their parents do, so a postsecondary education can actually create a legacy of academic participation that carries over to one’s children and grandchildren.

      So there is much to celebrate.  But now we need to make good on the promise of Pell.  It’s on us, all of us.  We must make the most of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to prepare for full-scale, high-quality implementation.  No small feat, but we’ve gotten this far and I know each of you in this room is working toward that success.

      At the Office of Justice Programs, my amazing colleagues in the Bureau of Justice Assistance have been working with our partners at Vera – and Education – for years now to provide high quality technical assistance to colleges and corrections departments that participate in the Second Chance Pell program.  We’ll need to draw on lessons from this experiment as we plan to scale up.  At OJP, we also continue to support a broad range of reentry programs in communities across the country, and will seed new grants in the coming months.

      And we have new partners on our team:  Last night you heard from Angel Sanchez, one of the two Second Chance Fellows now working with us at BJA.  Angel earned his GED while incarcerated and went on to obtain his college and law degrees.  He is now working with us and with the Department of Education to help expand educational opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals across the country.

      Our other Fellow, John Bae, comes to us from Vera, where he works with the Opening Doors to Public Housing Initiative.  John and Angel are two very talented and committed professionals who bring deep expertise and an invaluable perspective to our program and policy work in the reentry space.  Through the work they are doing, and through our partnerships with the Department of Education and Vera, we’re hoping to catalyze even more systemic changes across the country.  We are so fortunate to count Angel and John as colleagues, and I know how much they will contribute to our collective efforts.

      Just one more point before I close: Please know that we are committed to the goal of equity in education.  We know that Black and brown students are underrepresented among Second Chance Pell participants, and so we need to work to ensure that they have equal access to these resources.  We want to hit the ground running by the time the program is fully operational for the ’23-24 academic year, and I would encourage all of us to make equity a guiding principle of our efforts.

      I am so grateful for the hard work and the incredible example of each of you in this room.  Please know that we stand ready to assist you, to be good partners to you, as we forge this next ambitious chapter for Pell – as we deepen our efforts in the current sites and prepare for full-scale Pell implementation.  Our aim here is nothing short of realizing individual potential, building stronger communities and creating a more just, more equitable and more humane society.

Thank you for your deep commitment, and have a great conference.


Date Published: July 20, 2022