WATCH ^ BPI debate team prep for its historic win against Harvard
“It’s good to be on the stage with Harvard... better to be on the stage with Harvard and win.” – as seen in the film College Behind Bars

Defying expectations of who college is for and where it might lead.

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.

BPI students at chalkboard
News | College Behind Bars

PBS chronicles 12 [incarcerated students] who value education in ‘College Behind Bars’

BPI alumni Jule Hall and Salih Israil, who are featured in College Behind Bars, spoke with Patrice Gaines along with the film’s director, Lynn Novick. This article, reproduced below, first appeared in NBC News.   The film fills the screen with stories about human transformation as… Read More 

Dyjuan Tatro speaking on stage.
News | Alumni Advocacy

The Right to Learn Behind Bars: Encouraging College in Prison Reduces Recidivism and Helps Society

BPI alumnus Dyjuan Tatro ’18, government affairs officer for the Bard Prison Initiative, recently penned an op-ed on the value of investing pubic funds in college in prison. This article, reproduced below, first appeared in the New York Daily News.   Read the full article below: The… Read More 

News | Alumni News

Vulture: In College Behind Bars, Prisoners Step Into the Classroom

Ted Alcorn writes about BPI Alumnus Rodney Spivey-Jones’s ('17) unique experience of watching himself in a screening of the documentary film College Behind Bars, behind bars. The article, reproduced below, first appeared in Vulture, from New York Magazine.  From the article: Spivey-Jones had already seen earlier… 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.

Rolling Stone logo
11/26/2019
Rolling Stone

Incarcerated People Can Do More than Beat Harvard in a Debate

“College Behind Bars,” a new PBS documentary executive-produced by Ken Burns, shines a light on a program that every major university in America should be sponsoring When you watch College Behind Bars, which began last night on PBS and concludes tonight, or any other documentary like… Read More 

Making Sense, Sam Harris Podcast
11/24/2019
Making Sense Podcast, Sam Harris

#176 – Knowledge & Redemption

Listen to Podcast A Conversation with Lynn Novick and Jule Hall In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Lynn Novick about her four-part documentary College Behind Bars. The film follows the progress of students in the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) as… Read More