Statement on Congress Eliminating Barriers for People with Criminal Convictions from Accessing Federal Student Aid

Statement on Congress Eliminating Barriers for People with Criminal Convictions from Accessing Federal Student Aid

Washington, D.C. – Today, in response to Congress including language in the year-end omnibus and Coronavirus relief package that would reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated people and eliminate the Aid Elimination Penalty, which denied federal student aid to people convicted of a drug law violation while receiving such aid in the past—Grant Smith, Deputy Director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), released the following statement:

“The repeal by Congress of the ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated students and elimination of the drug conviction question on the federal student aid application, together, represent a major victory for students who have been unfairly deterred from pursuing higher education. No one should be denied access to education because of a criminal record. For more than twenty years, these policies have punished students who rely on federal aid to attend college and disproportionately harmed Black and Brown people targeted by drug enforcement. 

Congress imposed these restrictions during the 1990s escalation of the drug war and tough-on-crime era, and in the years since, thousands of students who rely on federal aid have been denied educational opportunities increasingly essential to successful employment.  Studies have confirmed time and again that these policies harm a person’s ability to successfully transition back into their communities and deny them the basic human right to learn and improve their quality of life. 

The repeal of these policies is a major step forward in the fight to roll back the collateral consequences of a conviction and repair the racial and economic inequities that convictions have caused. This victory would not have been possible without the leadership of currently and formerly incarcerated advocates.

While there remains much work to be done to fully dismantle the war on drugs and other destructive tough-on-crime policies, we are grateful that lawmakers have removed these particularly cruel and counterproductive barriers to education.”