3:38 PM EDT
James Clyburn, D-SC 6th

Mr. CLYBURN. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman from Maryland for yielding time to me.

Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment offered by the gentleman from Tennessee [Mr. Gordon] which--while certainly not intended that way by my colleague--seems to me to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Instead, I would urge my colleagues to support the amendment which will be offered next by the gentleman from Maryland [Mr. Wynn].

Let us recall that, in 1992, Congress reformed the use of Pell education grants by inmates when it reauthorized the Higher Education Act. At that time, Congress stipulated that such grants could only be used by inmates for tuition and books. Inmates serving life sentences or facing the death penalty were made ineligible. Limits were placed on the percentage of a school's student body that would be composed of incarcerated persons. I think those were good and appropriate changes. However, the amendment before us completely eliminates the eligibility of any inmate for a Pell grant and I believe that would be counter-productive.

Certainly, there is a social utility in educating prisoners. Studies consistently have shown lower recidivism rates for those inmates who participate in educational activities while incarcerated. A recent study by the Federal Bureau of Prisons--which opposes the Gordon amendment--confirmed that lower recidivism results from education as well as instilling positive social values and vocational skills needed for a law-abiding and productive life after release.

The American Correctional Association, the Association of State Correctional Administrators, and the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents have expressed a `fundamental opposition to the Gordon amendment.' They report, and I quote:

[The Pell Grant Program] provides a unique window of opportunity for our Nation to ensure that many released offenders are returned to the community with knowledge, skills,and abilities that will enable them to obtain employment. Moreover, the impact of providing educational opportunities under the authority of the Pell grants enhances the capacity of corrections officials to manage the complex needs of a changing offender population.

Particularly as nonviolent, first time offenders become an even larger proportion of our prison population, I believe complete elimination of access to Pell grants will be counterproductive. By all accounts, Pell grants are moneys well spent. The Wynn amendment--which will be offered next--will eliminate all Pell grants if Federal and State prison systems fail to provide this. I urge rejection of the Gordon amendment now and adoption of the more thoughtful, measured response contained in the Wynn amendment which will be offered next.

3:40 PM EDT
Bart Gordon, D-TN 6th

Mr. GORDON. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 2 minutes.

Just because one blind hog may occasionally find an acorn does not mean many other blind hogs will. The same principle applies to giving Federal Pell grants to prisoners. Certainly there is an occasional success story, but when virtually every prisoner in America is eligible for Pell grants, national priorities and taxpayers lose. That is especially true since the education department has no way to track success or even know for sure if a recipient is a prisoner.

[TIME: 1540]

Pell grants were created to help low- and middle-income students get the education they need to improve their lives. With college tuitions skyrocketing and the workplace demanding more advanced education, those students must be our first priority.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Prisoner advocates say inmates get as much as $200 million a year in grants. Meanwhile, budget pressures have cut Pell grants to pre-1989 levels, squeezing out thousands of traditional students.

Mr. Chairman, law-abiding students have every right to be outraged when a Pell grant for a policeman's child is cut but a criminal that the officer sends to prison can still get a big check.

Even worse, there are documented cases of sham prison schools that are only interested using prisoners as tools to get grants, not to educate students.

Mr. Chairman, criminal rehabilitation is important, but $500 million a year in State and Federal funds already go to prisoner education. If more is needed, it should come through targeted programs with strict guidelines that assure cost efficiency.

Mr. Chairman, quite simply, it makes much better sense to spend Pell grants on education and job training that will help keep young adults out of trouble. We cannot afford to throw millions of unaccountable dollars into prisoner Pell grants in search of a few acorns.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

3:42 PM EDT
Albert Wynn, D-MD 4th

Mr. WYNN. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, in these times it is easy to make statements designed to punish criminals. But I think it is very important that we make statements designed to reduce recidivism.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to call the House's attention to the words of former Chief Justice Warren Burger who said that to confine offenders behind walls without trying to change them is an expensive folly with short-term benefits.

Mr. Chairman, the fact of the matter is that we need to preserve this program. Let us look at the total situation. In the first instance, prisoners are not taking significant amounts of Pell grant funds. Prisoners only utilize one-half of 1 percent of Pell grant funding; one-half of 1 percent.

Second, that does not constitute $200 million as has been suggested but, rather, I submit, only $35 million out of a $6.3 billion program.

Third, I would submit the program is working. In instance after instance across this country, we are seeing that when prisoners are eligible to take advantage of educational opportunities at the college level, they do not come back to prison. And after all, Mr. Chairman, is not that what this is all about, reducing recidivism and reducing crime?

National statistics indicate that while the national recidivism rate is between 60 percent and 65 percent for those prisoners that partake of post-secondary education under this program, the recidivism rate is only 10 percent to 30 percent.

Mr. Chairman, I would submit that both from a cost-effectiveness standpoint as well as a standpoint of reducing recidivism and, in turn, reducing crime, we are better off when prisoners have the opportunity to get this education.

Mr. Chairman, I certainly respect the concerns of the gentleman from Tennessee on this issue and I will be introducing an amendment in just a few moments which will say that we will monitor this program and that we will only continue it if the Secretary of Education and the local secretaries for prisons say the program is working. But we should not cut the program out cold turkey. We should look at it and evaluate where we have seen success.

Mr. Chairman, let me suggest that a lot of people do not agree with the gentleman from Tennessee, starting with the Attorney General Janet Reno, the entire Clinton administration, Secretary of Education Riley, Senator Claiborne Pell, the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the American Council of Education, the American Correctional Association, the United Negro College Fund, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Mr. Chairman, what are they saying? They are saying, this program works, it reduces recidivism and we should keep it.

Mr. Chairman, I understand the concerns that people have. but please keep in mind, this program only utilizes one-half of 1 percent of all the Pell grant funds. It is not $200 million. It is only $35 million. And most importantly, it gets results.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

[Page: H2545]

3:45 PM EDT
Bart Gordon, D-TN 6th

Mr. GORDON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 1/2 minutes to the gentleman from Texas [Mr. Fields].

(Mr. FIELDS of Texas asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

3:46 PM EDT
Jack M. Fields, R-TX 8th

Mr. FIELDS of Texas. Mr. Chairman, today we have the opportunity, once and for all, to make incarcerated prisoners ineligible to receive Pell grants--the grant program designed to help low- and middle-income students meet the costs of attending college.

We can do that by voting for the Gordon-Holden-Fields amendment to the crime bill.

Today, incarcerated prisoners are applying for, and obtaining Pell grants. Every dollar in Pell grant funds obtained by prisoners means that fewer law-abiding students who need help in meeting their college costs are eligible for that assistance. It also means that law-abiding students who meet eligibility criteria receive smaller annual grants than they might otherwise obtain.

Mr. Speaker, the Federal Government spends up to $100 million a year on education and training programs specifically targeted at prisoners--and that's more than enough, as far as I'm concerned.

This amendment mandates that incarcerated prisoners be ineligible to receive Pell grants. Now. Period. No more studies, no more delays. It is a straightforward, simple amendment.

If you oppose Pell grants for prisoners, you should vote for the Gordon-Holden-Fields amendment.

We do not need any more studies. We need more higher education funds for our constituents' sons and daughters who are struggling to pay for their children's college expenses. Our constituents already pay to feed, house, clothe and rehabilitate prisoners. Their sons and daughters shouldn't have to do without so that incarcerated prisoners can use Pell grant funds to go to college.

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

3:47 PM EDT
James Clyburn, D-SC 6th

Mr. CLYBURN. I thank the gentlewoman for her remarks.

Mr. Speaker, at this time I yield to the distinguished gentleman from Illinois, a member of the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs and the Committee on Government Operations, who along with the gentlewoman from North Carolina [Mrs. Clayton] cochaired this task force the gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Rush].

3:49 PM EDT
Tim Holden, D-PA 6th

Mr. HOLDEN. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman from Tennessee for yielding time to me.

Mr. Chairman, I rise as a proud cosponsor of this amendment and I say to all my colleagues, it is time for a reality check.

I spent 14 years in law enforcement before being elected to this great institution, and I could argue for hours against why prisoners should not be allowed to have Pell grants, but, instead, I would like to read a letter I received in my district from Tamaqua. The woman states:

Where is an average, hard-working student who wants to make something of herself and get somewhere in life supposed to turn for help? Over the years we have told our daughter, `Keep your nose clean, stay out of trouble. If you have a police record, you will never get into college.' My daughter has listened, but where has it gotten her? She reads about prisoners getting Pell grants and free college educations.

What does this tell her?

It tells her: If she was sitting in jail she would get a free education.

Just where does a hard-working normal honor student involved in many extra curricular activities not only in school but also in the community go for help? The prisoner is rewarded with a free education.

The average honor student is penalized because she tried to save money for college and she is penalized because she stayed out of trouble. Who can justify all of this?

The woman concludes:

Do I tell her to put on a ski mask, go to the local bank, rob it, get a criminal record and then receive a free education?

3:51 PM EDT
Albert Wynn, D-MD 4th

Mr. WYNN. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, this is obviously an issue that has attracted a great deal of controversy.

In my closing comments, I would like to hopefully clarify some important points. Point No. 1: It has been suggested that law-abiding students are denied Pell grants because persons incarcerated are getting Pell grants. That is not true.

The administration's statement clearly indicates that the availability of Pell grants to prisoners has no effect on the availability of Pell grants to law-abiding students. By law, all eligible students who apply for Pell grants receive them. By law, all eligible students who apply for Pell grants receive them.

Mr. Chairman, the point I want to make is not that we are insensitive to the concerns expressed on the floor regarding this matter but, rather, the Gordon amendment is not the correct approach. It is far more reasonable and far more sound for us to consider the Wynn amendment, which I will be introducing in just a minute, which provides that we would phase out the program unless there is a showing that the program works.

The Secretary of Education would have to make an affirmative certification the program works, is cost-efficient, and reduces recidivism. Likewise, State prison directors would make the same certification. That is a more sound approach.