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Bard College President Leon Botstein Honored for Bard Prison Initiative's Work on Behalf of Young Black Men

Darren O'Sullivan
NEW YORK, N.Y. – For his stewardship of the Bard Prison Initiative and its work to bring higher education to prisons and reduce recidivism rates, Bard College President Leon Botstein was honored this month by the Pipeline Crisis/Winning Strategies Initiative, a national effort aimed at identifying ways to tackle the many barriers that limit the number of young black men in the pipeline to higher education and professional endeavors. Botstein was presented with the honor at a July 11 symposium in New York that was attended by more than 1,000 academics, activists, and political leaders. The initiative and symposium are spearheaded by Charles J. Ogletree, one of the nation’s leading legal scholars, who directs and teaches at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.
The Pipeline Crisis/Winning Strategies Initiative was launched in the summer of 2006 by Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, Goldman, Sachs & Co., and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute. The Initiative calls on the legal, financial services, and business communities to partner with the public sector to address the needs of young black men in five target areas: early childhood education; public school education; employment and economic development; criminal justice, prison reform, and re-entry; and opportunities for high-potential youth.

The Bard Prison Initiative was founded in 1999 by Bard student Max Kenner ’01, who is now the program’s director. It provides opportunities for higher education inside the prisons of New York State. “A college education dramatically reduces the rate at which students return to prison after release and spreads the benefits of higher education into many of New York’s most isolated communities,” Kenner says. “It reduces crime, saves the states money, and offers the opportunity for incarcerated New Yorkers to use their time in a way that is productive for themselves and our communities.”
BPI offers a Bard College education inside five New York state prisons: the maximum-security Green Haven, Eastern, and Elmira Correctional Facilities and the medium-security Woodbourne and Bayview Correctional Facilities. Bayview, located in Manhattan, is one of the five state prisons for women in New York. Among these five prison campuses, BPI now enrolls nearly 200 prisoners full time in rigorous and diverse liberal arts courses. The most recent graduation, held at Woodbourne in June, was the fourth commencement of the initiative and the first one to award Bard College bachelor’s as well as associate’s degrees.
BPI also makes important contributions to the intellectual life of the main Bard College campus in Annandale-on-Hudson. Each week, campus students visit regional prisons as volunteers. They teach a variety of precollege workshops in the arts and support a range of basic educational programs run by New York State. Bard alumni/ae have gone on to help build similar volunteer organizations across the country. Bard College faculty from across the disciplines travel regularly to the prisons to teach, as do professors from other regional universities. With the support of a major, three-year grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education, Bard is now developing and offering a new curriculum on criminal justice and American civics to all of its students, in particular those who volunteer with BPI inside regional prisons.
For over 20 years, college-in-prison programs slashed rates of reincarceration from 60 percent to less than 15 percent. They were the most cost-effective form of public correctional spending. Despite these facts, funding for prison colleges was eliminated in 1995, at the peak of the “tough-on-crime” frenzy in American electoral politics. BPI is one of only a handful of existing programs of its kind left in the United States.
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This event was last updated on 10-08-2008