Nearly 20 years ago, Congress ended a notable federal effort to support higher education behind bars.
Inmates of state and federal prisons became ineligible for Pell grants through a provision of the 1994 omnibus crime bill that President Bill Clinton signed into law. The House, then controlled by Democrats, approved the provision on a vote of 312 to 116 in April that year.
The majority on that vote argued that it was unjustifiable to give aid to prisoners when ordinary citizens were having trouble paying for college. Dissenters said that prisoners received a tiny fraction of annual Pell funding and that none of the grants they received took money away from other eligible students.