In light of President Obama’s work to stem over-incarceration, Congressmember Karen Bass (D-Calf.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, recently introduced bipartisan legislation that would bolster the Administration’s efforts to eliminate barriers to education for ex-offenders. H.R. 4004, the “Stopping Unfair Collateral Consequences from Ending Student Success Act” or the SUCCESS Act, would repeal the law that makes it all but impossible for people with a drug conviction, no matter how petty, to apply for federal financial aid for education.
A section of the Higher Education Act suspends college aid for a person who is convicted of a drug offense. This law has denied thousands of people needing aid for college and has discouraged tens of thousands of others from even applying. According to the Department of Education, during the 2009-2010 school year, nearly 3,300 people lost access to federal financial aid, including Pell Grants and students loans, because they had a drug conviction while in college that year.
“Denying or creating barriers to financial resources for those who need to get their lives back on track the most is nothing short of a cruel trick,” said Rep. Bass. “Stopping the educational process is certainly not in line with rehabilitating members of our communities, nor does it make sense to increase an educated population.”
But the federal government did not always make it as difficult for people to access higher education. Michael Santos was arrested in 1987 when he was 20 years old for selling cocaine. While incarcerated, he made a decision to work toward preparing for a law-abiding life, and pursuing his college degree was the core of his plan. While in prison, Mr. Santos was able to apply for and receive a Pell Grant. He received his undergraduate degree in 1992 and his master’s degree in 1995. He was released from prison in 2013, and because of the education he received, he was able to transition into society successfully as a law-abiding, contributing citizen. Despite serving a total of 26 years, he became an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University only three weeks after concluding his term as a federal prisoner.
“This grant money and learning programs opened opportunities for me and were integral to guaranteeing that I was able to succeed when I finished serving my time,” Mr. Santos said.
Mr. Santos has published 15 books, and he works to help people behind bars succeed when they are ultimately released.
“Investing in a former prisoner’s education is perhaps the best investment we can make to ensure that former prisoners will succeed instead of going back to prison. The SUCCESS Act is good for our communities, our families, and for our nation,” Rep. Bass concluded.
Reps Danny Davis (D-IL), Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Don Young (R-AK) joined Rep. Bass as original cosponsors of the legislation.
H.R. 4004 is identical to H.R. 3641, introduced by Rep. Bass in the 113th Congress.