Andrea Cantora

via The Marshall Project

When Congress decided in 1994 to ban federal student aid for people behind bars, it was part of a wider political agenda to "get tough on crime" – even though crime rates had begun to fall in the 1990s.

The number of people behind bars grew, but, without access to federal student aid, higher education programs in America's correctional facilities dwindled.

On Dec. 21, 2020, Congress moved to lift the long-standing ban on federal student aid – specifically, the Pell grant – for those who are incarcerated. The decision comes after a long push for prison reforms that included calls for a greater emphasis on rehabilitation, reducing prison populations, and making prison sentences less harsh.

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