18th Commencement
Featuring Commencement Address by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

BPI is “highly acclaimed...
widely emulated”

New York Times

What is college for?

The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) works to redefine the availability, affordability, and expectations typically associated with higher education in America.

Since 2001, BPI has created groundbreaking opportunities for college within America’s prison systems. These programs transform the negative impacts of criminal punishment and create radical inroads of access and opportunity to higher learning.

Today, BPI enrolls over 300 incarcerated students full-time in programs that culminate in degrees from Bard College; it offers extensive support for its alumni in and around New York City; and, it has developed a nationwide network of leading universities and colleges to catalyze a transformation in the relationship between education and criminal justice in the United States. BPI’s newest initiative, the Bard Microcollege, expands yet further the scope and impact of this work, delivering high-quality liberal arts education to isolated communities outside of prison through partnerships with community-based institutions.

By The Numbers

160
Courses offered in prison each year
97.5%
BPI graduates who leave prison and never go back
15
Colleges or universities partnering in the Consortium

Who are BPI students?

The BPI student body mirrors that of the prison system at large: students come from communities with the fewest quality educational opportunities that are most impacted by crises of crime and incarceration. The majority were first arrested as children. Few completed high school; most earned their GED in prison. Once enrolled, BPI students engage with the college full-time, embarking on a course of study that is ambitious and matches the breadth and intensity of any undergraduate learning experience.

After returning home, BPI alumni become independent taxpaying citizens. They work in business, the arts, and media; they attend graduate school; they have careers in the human services. Virtually none return to prison. They contribute to their communities in all the ways one might expect of any college graduates.

News | Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison

Boston College Establishes Prison Education Program

The Boston College Prison Education Program (BCPEP) recently launched and joined the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison. With the support of BPI and friends of the University, BCPEP has launched a college-in-prison program within MCI-Shirley. The first cohort was admitted in summer… Read More 

BPI in Action

Students from Moreau College Initiative at University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross at Notre Dame sitting in caps and gowns and listening to a commencement speech.

Launched in 2012, the Moreau College Initiative is a partnership between BPI, the University of Notre Dame, and Holy Cross College. It operates within Westville Correctional Facility – halfway between South Bend and Chicago, IL. Admission is also run at other men’s facilities in the state, from which admittees transfer to Westville. Students study full-time in a liberal arts curriculum that includes theology, literature, history, business, biology, and mathematics.

Both associate and bachelor’s degrees are offered through Holy Cross College, while most faculty and extensive in-kind support come from Notre Dame. Funding is public and private, recidivism is low, and graduates go on to employment and further higher education across Indiana. In May 2019, the Moreau College Initiative held its 5th graduation, conferring both AA and BA degrees.

BPI Debate Union team members seated on stage.

In spring 2019, BPI hosted the University of Cambridge for the eleventh intercollegiate debate at Eastern Correctional Facility. The BPI Debate Union emerged the winner of a lively debate about nuclear weapons, a team of incarcerated men defeating one of the world’s oldest and best-regarded debating clubs. The remarkable event was featured on the front page of The Washington Post.

The 2018-2019 academic year marked another milestone for BPI debate: the expansion of the team from one BPI site to two; the BPI Debate Union at Fishkill Correctional Facility had its first public debate in spring 2019, facing West Point cadets in a friendly match.

BPI alumnus sitting onstage at a #CloseRikers event.

Darren Mack is a distinguished member of JustLeadership USA (JLUSA) and actively engaged in the #CloseRikers campaign. Among other awards, JLUSA honored Darren with its Emerging Leadership Award and featured him as a speaker alongside Glenn Martin, John Legend, and the Speaker of the NYC Council, Melissa Mark Viverito. Darren is also the recipient of a prestigious fellowship from the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Community Organizing Institute.

First enrolling with BPI in 2006, Darren received his Associate in Arts degree in 2010. Released in 2012, Darren graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Social Studies from Bard College in 2013. Darren is on the Bard College Alumni/ae Association Board of Governors and earned his MSW focused in Community Organizing & Policy at Hunter College in 2019. Today, Darren is Director of Community Engagement and Advocacy at JustLeadership USA.

PBS Logo in Black
3/5/2019
PBS

College Behind Bars to Air on PBS in November 2019

New Four-Part Documentary Series by Lynn Novick Follows Prisoners Through Rigorous College Program; Explores How Education Transforms Lives and Impacts Criminal Justice PASADENA, CA; February 1, 2019 — Alfred I. duPont-Columbia and Peabody-Award winning filmmaker Lynn Novick (THE VIETNAM WAR, PROHIBITION, FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT, THE WAR) has… Read More 

The New York Times logo.
10/31/2018
The New York Times

Earning a degree inside Brooklyn’s Central Public Library

Purvis Thompson poses for a portrait at the Brooklyn Public Library after taking an anthropology class offered by Bard College on October 16, 2018. Bard College has opened a micro-college, offering associates degrees earned by attending classes at the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand… Read More