TRENTON — With a bill that cleared the state Senate on Monday, state prisoners are one step closer to being able to receive state financial aid to continue their education — a move that advocates and supporters say will reduce recidivism and save taxpayer money.
The bill, S-2055, would eliminate a state law that bars prisoners from receiving state grants and scholarships, according to a news release from state Senate Democrats.
Instead, prisoners would have to abide by the same regulations as any other applicants, according to the release, in addition to being a state resident for at least a year prior to their incarceration date, a state-sentenced inmate, and they must receive approval from the Department of Corrections to enroll.
“Higher education is one of the most powerful deterrents to crime and recidivism, and the most effective way to break the cycle of poverty,” said Sen. Cunningham, D-Hudson, who sponsored the bill and chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee. “Recent studies show that for every one dollar invested in correctional education programs, it resulted in a $4 to $5 dollar reduction in state incarceration costs during the first three years of a prisoner’s release.”
Sponsors of the bill cited the $54,865 per inmate per year cost as of 2014, as well as the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium, NJ-STEP, which currently provides 550 prisoners with higher education courses through colleges and universities, including Cumberland County College.
“Offering inmates the opportunity and the means to pursue higher education while in prison can be life-changing,” Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said. “Creating this avenue for educational growth will help inmates find jobs and return to normalcy upon their release, reducing the likelihood that they return to prison.”
The bill cleared by a vote of 26-10, but is in committee and hasn’t been voted on by the full Assembly.