Expanding Education Access for Justice-Impacted Students

A stack of books, a gavel and a graduation cap sit on a table inside a library to represent expanding education access and graduation opportunities for people impacted by the justice system.
Feb. 13, 2024

Nearly two million people are incarcerated across federal, state, local and tribal systems in the United States. Among those, 95% of people will be released to rejoin their communities, but many lack access to training and education that will help them transition successfully.  

This is a missed opportunity for safer communities. Research shows that higher education access in prison increases the odds of securing employment after release and decreases the likelihood of recidivism. This provides a cost savings for states since every dollar spent on prison education programs results in four to five dollars saved on incarceration costs. 

Given this, my 2023-25 Chair’s Initiative focuses on creating access to quality education and workforce training opportunities for individuals in the justice system. Far too often, individuals impacted by the justice system are overlooked and provided only limited education services, but as state leaders and policymakers, we have a responsibility to provide high-quality education opportunities to all our citizens, no matter where they might be in their education journey. 

Through this initiative, we will support states and policymakers to transform their criminal justice systems from ones that are strictly punitive to ones that prepare individuals to successfully reintegrate into society with a high-quality education, employment prospects and the skills needed to fully participate in their communities. 

That’s just what we’ve done in Kansas. During my administration, Kansas became the first state to provide Pell-eligible programming in every state correctional facility. That has provided opportunities for individuals who are incarcerated to take part in critical education experiences and workforce training programs that provide them the skills and degrees they need to secure employment upon release. From industry-recognized credential programs to associate and bachelor’s degrees, we’re ensuring that our correctional education system is meeting the needs of our residents, our communities and the Kansas economy.  

In the fall of 2023, Kansas reached an important milestone—more incarcerated individuals have completed a degree or certificate program in the last three years than in the previous 20 years combined. Kansas is not stopping there. We’re experiencing historically high enrollment in our prison education programs and are expanding offerings to better respond to residents’ interests and the needs of Kansas employers.  

My Chair’s Initiative will build on that success to highlight policy levers in states across the country that reduce barriers to education by: 

    • Examining governance structures to identify where coordination and collaboration between the various oversight entities can be strengthened to better serve students.
    • Expanding access to state financial aid and assistance for students who are incarcerated. 
    • And ensuring students in carceral settings have access to the technology and learning spaces they need to complete their coursework, and assistance in filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

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Author profile

Governor Laura Kelly

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