NEW YORK—The Obama administration’s recently announced plan to experiment with federal funding for college courses for prison inmates is a sign of hope for a broken criminal justice system, the PEN Prison Writing Program said in a statement this week.

The Second Chance Pell Pilot Program announced Friday could temporarily lift the ban on Pell grants for education to a limited number of inmates by fall 2016. For forty-five years the PEN Prison Writing Program has maintained the position that education is essential to reducing recidivism and that America needs more prison education, not less.

“The prison industrial complex is an enterprise that remains invisible to many Americans, but it is a business built on a profit—it hosts trade shows that market everything from stainless steel toilets to packaged food to razor fencing—that needs its beds to remain full,” said Jackson Taylor, director of the PEN Prison Writing Program. “Courses in education that build skill afford the only hope to change the course of direction for many caught in the downward spiral of these inhuman warehouses where people, more often than not, come out worse than when they went in.”

Many of the tensions that eliminated the PELL grants for prisoners in 1994 were stirred by lack of advancement opportunities for guards, wardens, food preparers, clerks, and others working in the prison system, who are often subject to the same deforming pressures as the men and women serving sentences. The PEN Prison Writing Program supports the hope that PELL grants will one day be extended to those who are employed by the prison industrial complex, in the same way that educational benefits are afforded to members of the armed services.

The PEN Prison Writing Program continues to advocate for more resources toward the provision of meaningful educational change in prisons with the aim of redirecting wasted prison dollars toward infrastructures that maintain and build our public good.


Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide.

Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager:, (646) 779-4830