By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S prisoners will soon be eligible for federal grants to take college courses online, a Justice Department official said on Tuesday.

The Justice Department and the Department of Education will announce on Friday a limited pilot program for incarcerated Americans to apply for federal Pell grants.

The program builds on efforts from the White House to provide pathways out of prison by reducing sentences and giving second chances to those who have served time.

Obama recently commuted the sentences of 46 prisoners and became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison when he traveled to El Reno, Oklahoma.

Unlike student loans, Pell grants do not have to be repaid.

A 2013 study from the RAND Corporation found that prisoners who take education courses are 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than those who did not participate in programs.

Online learning platforms have opened up the possibility of enrolling in college courses for prisoners.

The Education Department will put out a call for proposals for colleges and universities that want to participate in the programs, said the Justice Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program had not yet been announced.

Criminal justice reform has recently gained traction across party lines.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Republican Senator Charles Grassley, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has plans to introduce a criminal justice bill before Congress takes its August recess.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/us-prisoners-will-soon-be-eligible-to-receive-grants-for-college-courses-2015-7#ixzz3hPk89EJV