By Emily Payne
Boston University students know their acronyms, and from their college names to where to grab some lunch, it seems as if everything is shortened to a cryptic, insider code. Here’s one that is less known: PEP. Type that into the BU search bar and you’ll find pages on the Pep Band, Professional Education Programs, and Pre-Engineering Programs. But “bu.edu/PEP” will take you to a place where students are less likely to visit: the BU Prison Education Program. Turns out that Boston University is one of the leaders of prison education in Massachusetts, a sector of higher education that has been struggling to stay afloat.
Back in 1994, Congress passed a major crime law amendment which banned prisoners from receiving Pell Grants, a major source of federal aid. The misconception of the time was that giving prisoners Pell Grants reduced the amount of aid available to non-criminals. In reality, according to The Real Cost of Prisons Project, only 25,000 of 4.7 million available Pell Grants had been distributed to prisoners in that year, which comes out to about 0.5% of the funds. Nonetheless, because of the controversy surrounding the cause and the many misconceptions of its use, the aid diminished.
But why should we care if criminals get an education, you say? After all, we all stayed out of prison (for the most part) so that we could go to a university, receive our degrees, obtain successful jobs, etc. Well, according to a report of the Institute of Higher Education in 2005, higher education for prisoners “remains a crucial strategy in efforts to reduce recidivism and slow the growth of the nation’s incarcerated population.” Basically, a higher education provides an outlet for prisoners and gives them options upon release. They leave prison in a better position to hold a job and become an upstanding citizen, rather than revert back to the lifestyle that led them to prison to begin with.