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Ready for Pell

November 22, 2023

At a Glance

JFFs Ready for Pell initiative supports colleges and universities that are leveraging the restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for people who are incarcerated to launch or expand postsecondary education in prisons. 

Lucretia Murphy Vice President
Rebecca Villarreal Senior Director
Tara Smith Director
Jenna Dreier Director
Stacy Holiday Director
Rachel Pleasants McDonnell Director
Leah Grassini Moehle Senior Manager
Monique Sheen Senior Manager
Caroline Norton Manager
Shaun Libby Intern
Practices & Centers


A 1994 bipartisan law banned the use of Pell Grants to help people who are incarcerated pay for college courses. The result was a sharp and lasting drop in the number of programs offering postsecondary education in prison. The law remained in place until July 1, 2023, when the federal government restored Pell Grant eligibility to people serving sentences. Today, an estimated 760,000 people who are incarcerated are eligible for Pell Grants, and many colleges and other organizations are eager to expand access to postsecondary education in prison as a way to increase opportunities for economic advancement after release. But they need support to create high-quality programs in correctional settings. 


In 2021, JFF partnered with Ascendium Education Group to launch Ready for Pell, a $4.7 million initiative to help postsecondary institutions prepare for the restoration of Pell Grant eligibility to people who are incarcerated. In 2022, JFF awarded grants of up to $120,000 to 20 colleges and universities in 16 states—plus statewide entities in New York and Arkansas—to build postsecondary programs in prisons or enhance existing ones. The initiative also offers grantees technical assistance, including virtual learning sessions and individual pairings with expert coaches.


JFF has engaged a wide-ranging group of subject matter experts to inform this work, including people who have led postsecondary programs at correctional facilities and people who have studied in programs while incarcerated. In collaboration with these experts and the grantees, JFF has developed a set of resources for use by postsecondary institutions and systems across the country. JFF’s Normalizing Education Resource Center includes tools and guides related to program administration, financial aid, data and evaluation, and release and reentry. A grantees network and an evaluation by RTI International will surface best practices for the rapidly expanding field of postsecondary education in prison. 

Thank you to our funder:



Vera Institute of Justice

Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network

RTI International