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Bard Prison Initiative Awarded $500,000 Grant from Ford Foundation

Darren O'Sullivan

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) has received a two-year, $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to support its efforts to provide a rigorous liberal arts education to incarcerated men and women in New York. Founded in 1999, BPI provides incarcerated men and women in five New York State prisons the opportunity to earn a Bard College degree while serving their sentences. The program has awarded 250 degrees to and educated more than 500 students and is the largest program of its kind in the United States.

“We are thrilled by Ford’s leadership in this field, by its commitment to bring rigorous and meaningful educational opportunities to places where such opportunities are absent,” said Max Kenner ’01, BPI founder and executive director. “We at BPI are humbled by Ford's direct support of our work. Ford’s generosity will enable us to continue to enroll hundreds of New Yorkers in life-changing educational programs in the years to come.”

“The impact of higher education on incarcerated individuals in our society is transformational,” said Jeannie Oakes, director of the Educational Opportunity and Scholarship programs at the Ford Foundation. “We have seen the results of education eliminating disparities for those too often ignored on every level. The effect of the commitment by BPI will be a reduction of barriers to completing a high-quality, postsecondary credential, obtaining a high-quality job, and participating in the civic life of their communities."

“Ford has always pioneered innovative approaches to questions of social justice and education,” said BPI Distinguished Fellow Ellen Condliffe Lagemann. “Their Advancing Higher Education Access and Success Initiative continues that tradition, and will make a profound difference to thousands of individuals and communities in need of greater educational opportunity.”

Founded in 1999, the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) provides incarcerated men and women in five New York State prisons the opportunity to earn a Bard College degree while serving their sentences. The academic standards and workload are rigorous, based on an unusual mix of attention to developmental skills and ambitious college study. The rate of post-release employment among the program’s participants is high and recidivism is stunningly low. By challenging incarcerated men and women with a liberal arts education, BPI works to redefine the relationship between educational opportunity and criminal justice. BPI enrolls nearly 250 incarcerated men and women across a full spectrum of academic disciplines, and offers approximately 55 courses each semester at five New York State maximum and medium security prisons for men and women.

Graduates of the BPI program have consistently succeeded after release from prison. Some have chosen to work in human service organizations, serving people with AIDS, or become professional counselors for residents in city-based alternatives to incarceration. Several alumni/ae have worked their way up into management positions in an innovative, for-profit electronics recycling company. Other graduates have continued their educations, earning scholarships and working toward additional academic and professional degrees at top universities, including Columbia, NYU, CUNY, and the Yale Divinity School. As former President Bill Clinton observed in his book Giving, BPI “is a good investment in a safer, more productive society.”

Since its founding, BPI has expanded its reach nationally. The Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison was created in 2009 to support innovative college-in-prison programs throughout the country. Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Grinnell College in Iowa, and Goucher College in Maryland have established programs, and the consortium, housed at Bard, is launching a partnership with Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana this spring. Plans are underway to expand in two more states this year. For more information on BPI, please visit

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This event was last updated on 04-08-2013