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Bard Prison Initiative Opens New Campus at Fishkill Correctional Facility this Fall with $134,000 Grant From Nancy And Edwin Marks Family Foundation

Darren O'Sullivan

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) has received a $134,000 grant from the Nancy and Edwin Marks Family Foundation to expand its New York college program with the launch of a new campus this fall at Fishkill Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison for men in Beacon. With the new program at Fishkill, BPI now provides incarcerated women and men across six New York State prisons the opportunity to earn a Bard College degree while serving their sentences. The program, the largest of its kind in the United States, has awarded 250 degrees and enrolled more than 500 students. Admissions at Fishkill took place in August and 17 students are enrolled for the fall semester in a diverse array of liberal arts courses. BPI will offer reentry support at Fishkill to prepare graduates for continuing their academic study and develop professional careers upon release.

“College opportunity improves the lives of everyone in an institution like this one, not just direct participants,” said Max Kenner ’01, BPI founder and executive director. “We are proud to expand our program to include Fishkill, excited at the opportunity to offer reentry assistance to more people preparing to leave prison, and, most of all, we’re grateful to our partners who have made this happen. That includes the staff and administration at Fishkill itself, the leadership of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, and, most of all, The Marks Family Foundation—whom we count among our oldest friends.”

“BPI is a light of hope that illuminates an alternative path, both for the prisoners and for the families of the prisoners.” said Carolyn Marks Blackwood, a trustee of the Nancy and Edwin Marks Family Foundation, who, on a visit, saw firsthand the impact BPI has on its students and the rest of the prison. “What really struck me, as I sat in class, was what was happening in the hallway. I noticed faces peering in; face after face, looking into the classroom. Students explained to me that, because of BPI, many other inmates are now motivated to study on their own, or are in programs to get their GEDs, preparing themselves, with the aim to apply to the BPI college program. It is clear that BPI helps more than the students enrolled, and that its effects permeate the whole institution.”

The Nancy and Edwin Marks Family Foundation is a private philanthropy with a focus on New Yorkers in need. Broadly speaking, the Foundation invests in programs that provide effective and uplifting support at critical junctures to change and improve the course of people’s lives.

Founded in 1999, the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) provides incarcerated men and women in New York State the opportunity to earn a Bard College degree while serving their sentences. The academic standards and workload are rigorous, based on ambitious college study. The rate of postrelease employment among the program’s participants is high and recidivism is stunningly low. By providing incarcerated individuals with a liberal arts education, BPI works to redefine the relationship between educational opportunity and criminal justice. BPI enrolls 275 incarcerated men and women across a full spectrum of academic disciplines, and offers more than 60 courses each semester at six 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. BPI established The Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison in 2009 to support innovative college-in-prison programs throughout the country. Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Grinnell College in Iowa, Goucher College in Maryland, and, most recently, Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana have launched programs. Plans are under way to expand to up to four more states this academic year. For more information on BPI, please visit

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This event was last updated on 11-18-2013