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Press Release

Bard Prison Initiative to Hold Its Eleventh Commencement on Saturday, May 31 at Woodbourne Correctional Facility

Darren O'Sullivan

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) will hold its 11th commencement at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Woodbourne, New York, on Saturday, May 31. BPI will award associate in arts degrees to 36 students. The commencement speaker will be Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, D–New York, who will be honored with Bard College’s John Dewey Award for Distinguished Public Service. Additional remarks will be provided by Bishop Andrew M. L. Dietsche, the 16th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and Bard College President Leon Botstein.

BPI offers a Bard College education inside three maximum-security prisons—Coxsackie, Eastern New York, and Green Haven; and three medium-security prisons—Fishkill, Taconic, and Woodbourne. In partnership with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, BPI’s academic presence within the prison system has increased dramatically in breadth, depth, and scale: by the end of this year, the College will have awarded more than 300 degrees to students enrolled through the Initiative.

“On Saturday 36 students will be conferred associate in arts degrees. They are women and men who completed their studies in prison and through BPI,” said Max Kenner ’01, BPI founder and executive director. “They will join a growing number of Bard alumni/ae who have returned to communities across New York. Each of them is a powerful example of what is possible through education and the imperative of redefining college access in New York State and across the country.”

Since 2001, the Bard Prison Initiative has provided college opportunity inside the prisons of New York State. Begun as a pilot program with 15 students, BPI now enrolls 275 incarcerated New Yorkers in a robust liberal arts curriculum. Bard College is also home to the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, which assists other colleges and universities as they establish similar projects in states across the country. The Consortium currently collaborates with colleges in Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Missouri, and Washington that are returning rigorous college opportunity to the prison systems of their states. 

The pursuit of a college education dramatically reduces the rates at which students return to prison after release and spreads the benefits of academic achievement in many of the country’s most isolated communities. It affects all of those whose fates intersect in our prison system, including teachers, volunteers, administrators, and incarcerated students, along with their children and extended families. The work can be transformative, and offers the prospect of change that will reverberate through future generations.

The Bard Prison Initiative challenges and expands our sense of community, and its success is a tribute to an extraordinary collaboration among the College, the government of the State of New York, and our students.

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This event was last updated on 05-30-2014