Ending Mass Incarceration

Providing Second Chances

America is a nation founded on the idea of second chances, yet we close doors that lead to a better life for a whole segment of the population. People with criminal convictions are stigmatized in the labor market and barred from specific jobs, unable to vote, and shut out of public housing.

But policies once rationalized as just desserts and good for public safety increasingly are viewed as counter-productive. Key arenas for creating second chances are in higher education and housing. What we’ve found: The payoff of bringing college back into prison, and using it as a sturdy bridge to support reentry. And that many people caught up in the justice system and then barred from public housing can live there safely with their families without compromising the safety of other residents—and that welcoming them is the smart thing to do.

Related Work

College in Prison Adapts as COVID-19 Upends Education in Schools Everywhere

Daniela, who received her associate’s degree in 2014, says going to college and getting a degree while in prison gave her a second chance “to be who [she] always wanted to be.” But for decades, getting that second chance and accessing higher education has been a challenge for people like Daniela. The Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiativ ...

Blog Post
  • Margaret diZerega
    Margaret diZerega
  • Nazish Dholakia
    Nazish Dholakia
April 28, 2021
Blog Post

Second Chance Pell: Four Years of Expanding Access to Education in Prison

The Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative, launched by the U.S. Department of Education in 2015, provides need-based Pell Grants to people in state and federal prisons. The initiative examines whether expanding access to college financial aid increases incarcerated adults’ participation in postsecondary educational opportunities. This re ...

  • Kelsie Chesnut, ​Allan Wachendorfer
April 27, 2021

Looking Beyond Conviction History

Recommendations for Public Housing Authority Admissions Policies

Safe, affordable housing is essential for the millions of people released from U.S. jails and prisons each year. But most public housing authorities (PHAs) have admissions policies that prevent formerly incarcerated people from living there. For nearly all types of convictions, housing authorities exercise their individual discretion to set eligibi ...

  • Jacqueline Altamirano Marin, Erica Crew, Margaret diZerega
April 13, 2021

A Monumental Shift: Restoring Access to Pell Grants for Incarcerated Students

After 26-year ban lifts, incarcerated students can once again receive this federal financial aid

In December 2020, Congress lifted a 26-year ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated students. The ban, enacted amid a slew of “tough-on-crime” policies in the 1990s, stripped people in prison of access to this federal financial aid. Incarcerated people earn pennies per hour for the work they do in prison, making it next to impossible for them to afford ...

  • Juan Martinez-Hill
March 04, 2021