Prison debate team fells an intellectual giant

It’s not all that often we get the chance to post a strictly “feel good” article on here, so when one comes along I’m going to jump on it. This past week Harvard University’s renowned debating team fell to a

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Throw the Book at Them

By Leon Neyfakh This past Saturday, 53 inmates at Eastern Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York, were awarded college diplomas as part of the Bard Prison Initiative, a program that enables convicted felons to take courses and

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Max Kenner Receives Award

By The Daily Freeman  Bard College’s Max Kenner, the executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), received a 2014 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Education. The award recognizes 10 of the year’s most amazing achievements and the innovators behind

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A Letter from Max Kenner, Bard Prison Initiative’s Executive Director

Max Kenner / Photo courtesy By Max Kenner Dear Readers, Twelve and a half years ago, I spent the summer driving across New York State, from prison to prison, looking for some good news and partners to help

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The Bard Prison Initiative: Reducing Recidivism and Changing Lives

By Christopher Zoukis

The New York-based Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) is one of the largest prison-based higher education programs of its kind.  While serving their prison sentences, participants study rigorous coursework and work toward earning college degrees.  The program offers access to higher education to both incarcerated men and women who want to pursue their education and increase their chances of finding a good job and enjoying a more rewarding life upon their release.  In this way, the program’s mission is to employ education as a vehicle for change—changing people’s futures and the criminal justice system itself.   Image courtesy

Introduction to the Bard College Prison Program

According to the program’s website, the initiative “enrolls incarcerated women and men in academic programs that lead to degrees from Bard College” (  Courses are instructed by faculty from Bard College as well as other area colleges at five participating prisons.  Participants work to earn Associate of Arts or Bachelor of Arts degrees.  The program offers classes in the arts, humanities, mathematics, and sciences and offers general education coursework that fulfills degree requirements.  An important feature of the program is that coursework is not altered for the prison population. “Incarcerated students are held to identical academic standards as conventional undergraduates at Bard College. The substance of the courses is not tailored to the incarcerated students and is the same as offered on the main Bard campus.”  In this way, incarcerated students receive the same education as if they attended classes outside of prison.

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Bard Prison Initiative

By Kristina Hall

In 1860, Bard College, then known as St. Stephens’ College, was founded. Overlooking the Hudson River in New York, the college’s function was to prepare young men for seminary, and over the years has evolved its curriculum into “higher intellectual and artistic goals.” The very prestigious Bard College of today embraces science, arts, music, dance, film, and other liberal art disciplines.

The Institute of Writing & Thinking was born from visionaries within Bard College and, in 1999 many of the founders of this particular Institute formed the Bard Prison Initiative.  Image courtesy

The Bard Prison Initiative was created so that incarcerated men and women could have the opportunity to earn a Bard College degree while serving their sentences. The curriculum and academic standards are as rigorous as Bard College, and the employment rate of prisoners released with Bard College degrees is quite high and recidivism is extremely low.

By early 2011, Bard College had granted 157 degrees to inmate participants who had participated in the Bard Prison Initiative and nearly 500 students have been enrolled in the educational program in five prisons across New York State.

The Bard Prison Initiative is the largest degree-granting, college-in-prison program in the country. Undergraduates from Bard College join Bard faculty members as volunteers in the prison program and offer classes that are related to these volunteer students’ experiences with the Bard Prison Initiative.

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