Bard News & Events

Press Release


Mark Primoff
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – The Bard Prison Initiative, a program initiated by Bard College alumnus Max Kenner ’01 to bring new opportunities for higher education into the correctional system, will hold its first Commencement on January 29, 2005, at the Eastern N.Y. Correctional Facility in Napanoch. Bard College will confer twelve associate in arts degrees at the 11:30 a.m. ceremony, which will be attended by representatives of the College, including Bard College President Leon Botstein; Charles P. Stevenson Jr., interim chair of Bard’s Board of Trustees; Daniel Karpowitz and Max Kenner of the Bard Prison Initiative; and David L. Miller, superintendent, Eastern New York Correctional Facility. Stephen Chinlund, retired executive director of Episcopal Social Services, will be honored for his career of public service and his commitment to the establishment of the Bard Prison Initiative. The Commencement is not open to the public. The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), founded in 1999 by Kenner, who currently as 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 the maximum-security Eastern New York Correctional Facility and at the medium-security prison at Woodbourne. This first commencement marks a turning point in the brief history of BPI, as the first 12 students graduate with their Associate in Arts degrees. With an incarcerated student body expected to grow to a hundred full-time students, Bard College, with the help of its partners in the New York Department of Correctional Services, looks forward to launching a bachelor of arts degree next year. 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 facilitate 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. “This initiative makes a profound contribution to the lives of all of those whose fates intersect in our prison system, including teachers, volunteers, administrators, and incarcerated students and their families,” says Karpowitz, the program’s academic director. “The impact can be transformative and holds out the promise of change that will reverberate among future generations. The Bard Prison Initiative challenges and expands our sense of community, and its successes are a tribute to an extraordinary collaboration between the college, the government of the State of New York, and our students.” ABOUT THE BARD PRISON INITIATIVE The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) is restoring higher education to the prisons of New York State. For over 20 years, college-in-prison programs slashed rates of reincarceration from 60 percent to less than 15 percent. They spread higher-education among the most isolated communities and 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. Within that year some 350 such programs closed nationwide, ending the presence of the most affordable and transformative programs in American criminal justice. BPI runs college course inside a long-term, maximum-security prison and a transitional, medium-security prison. Between these two prison campuses the Initiative now enrolls roughly 70 prisoners full time in rigorous and diverse liberal arts courses. BPI is one of only a handful of existing programs of its kind left in United States. [EDITORS – BPI director Max Kenner and Academic Director Daniel Karpowitz are available for interviews. The commencement ceremony is closed to the public. Journalists seeking to attend must make arrangements IN ADVANCE. Call 845-758-7412 for further information.] # # # (1/25/05)

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This event was last updated on 02-25-2005