Allowing state prisoners to apply for and receive federal funding for postsecondary education, lifting an over 20-year ban, would not only improve their post-release employment chances but save the state money and make communities safer, according to a report released Wednesday.

“Imagine someone who has served a lengthy incarceration,” said Jose Bou, manager of equity, family and community partnerships at Holyoke, Massachusetts, Public Schools and a formerly incarcerated student. “Would you hire that person the second they got out?

“For most people, the answer is no.”

The New York-based Vera Institute of Justice and Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality released its report, “Investing in Futures: Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prison,” detailing the social and financial benefits to lifting the ban and allowing prisoners to receive Pell Grants, federal funding for students awarded based on financial need.

Bou was first arrested at 16, and at age 23 started serving a 12-year sentence for cocaine trafficking, he explained during a telebriefing Tuesday afternoon that announced the findings of the report.

“I wanted to be part of something bigger than what I had been,” Bou said, adding he was proud when he was released from prison to transform from a tax burden to a taxpayer, and his education helped him succeed.

The study found that if only 50 percent of the eligible prison population participated in a postsecondary education program, employment rates among that population would increase, on average, by 10 percent.

It also found that recidivism — the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend — would decrease, and lifting the ban could save states a combined $365.8 million each year, with New Jersey saving an estimated $10.2 million per year — with only 50 percent of the people eligible to receive grants participating.

Nick Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice, said the opportunity to work toward a college degree benefits the communities prisoners will return to by interrupting the cycle of incarceration. He added that children whose parents pursued higher education are more likely to pursue higher education themselves.

While the report focused on the country at large, New Jersey is making steps to lift its own ban on providing state financial aid to prisoners for education.

A bill, S-2055, passed by the Senate in June, would eliminate the law prohibiting prisoners from receiving state scholarships and grants for education, and is currently in the Assembly Higher Education Committee.

Contact: 609-272-7241 Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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