Reimagining college, transforming prison
The Bard Prison Initiative extends the full breadth and depth of the Bard College liberal arts curriculum into six New York State prisons. BPI creates and protects academic spaces where students and faculty engage in ambitious college coursework, challenge one another intellectually, and build supportive community.
Students undergo a selective admission process, enroll full-time in the same courses that they would on Bard’s main campus, are held to the same high standards as all Bard College students, and graduate with Bard College degrees. BPI students discover new strengths and direction that often fundamentally alter their relationship to themselves, their communities, and the world in which we live.
BPI in New York State
Space for learning
College faculty teach small seminar-style courses, serve as academic advisors, and offer workshops and guest lectures at Coxsackie, Eastern, Fishkill, Green Haven, Taconic, and Woodbourne Correctional Facilities, where BPI students often comprise more than 10% of the general population. Bard College has conferred nearly 550 degrees to students at these BPI campuses. We call them campuses because that’s exactly what they are: spaces for thinking, learning, and challenging students to imagine success beyond the confines of their physical location.
“We all accept thinking as part of our writing process, but we must also learn to accept writing as part of our thinking process.”
As they pursue associate in arts (A.A.) degrees, students enroll in requirements such as Bard’s First-Year Seminar and Citizen Science, take courses spanning all four academic divisions of the college, and choose electives according to their interests.
After completing A.A. degrees, students work toward bachelor of arts (B.A.) degrees. As members of the upper college, they participate in advanced B.A. seminars, moderate into specific majors, and spend a year writing their senior thesis projects.
BPI cultivates habits of inquiry, dialogue, and engagement through a distinctive writing-based curriculum. From Language & Thinking through Senior Project, Bard students learn to read closely and question carefully. Foundational academic skills are taught through rigorous, credit-bearing courses.
Students take a minimum of six academic writing courses, through which they learn multiple strategies for effective written communication. Using informal, exploratory writing techniques that build to revised, formal essays, professors guide students through global and discipline-specific ways of thinking about, questioning, and responding to course material.
Grammar, Rhetoric, and Style
Reading to Write
Democracy as a Way of Life
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey
Migration and Diaspora in Global Perspective
Philosophy and the City
As students move through the advanced coursework of the bachelor’s degree program, they also begin to specialize in particular subject areas. B.A. Seminars prioritize the development of advanced academic writing and prepare students to moderate into a major and to write senior projects.
B.A. Seminars include:
Literary Theory and Interpretation
Colonial and Global Inequalities
New York City: Culture, History, Politics
Ancient Greek Tragedy
Social Studies Theory and Methods
Senior Thesis Projects
The senior project is the culmination of the Bard bachelor’s degree program. Students research and write an original, individual project within their chosen area of study, working closely with an advisor in that field.
Examples of senior projects:
Game-strategic Analysis: A Linear Algebraic Approach to the Nash Equilibrium and Application to ‘Big Med’
19th Century Archdiocese of Baltimore: Race against Religion and the Nuns Who Stood with God
Exploring Fractal Dimension Calculations for Chaotic Systems
My Name Rings Bells: From Sojourner Truth to Allah and the Political Aesthetics of Black Names
Bringing Public Education to Life: Rediscovering the Value of Progressive Approaches to Learning
BPI courses of study
Twentieth-Century Art, Histories of Architecture and Design, Rights and the Image
Fundamentals of Piano, Introduction to Western Classical Music, Jazz Literature
Drawing I-III, Color/Works on Paper
Form & Fingerprints: Reading and Writing the Short Story, The Art of the Short Story, Prose Fiction, The Hero’s Journey
Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Chinese, German, and Spanish. Advanced Readings in Modern Chinese, Advanced Readings in Chinese Culture and History, Modern German Short Prose, Once Upon a Time: The Folktales of the Brother’s Grimm, Contemporary Literature: German or Post-National?, Introduction to Latin American Literature, Readings in Spanish: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Empire and History in the 19th Century British Novel, 20th Century French Literature, Contemporary Literature of the African Diaspora, Afterlives of Antiquity: Vergil, Augustine, Dante, Latin American Short Fiction, Introduction to African American Literature, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Moby Dick: The Great American Novel
Web Development I, Applied Java Programming Essentials, Python Programming, Object-Oriented Design, Data Structures
Basic Algebra, Advanced Algebra, Pre-Calculus, Calculus I-III, Probability & Statistics, Introduction to Number Theory, Ordinary Differential Equations, Discrete Mathematics, Linear Algebra, Abstract Algebra, Graph Theory, Dynamical Systems, Real Analysis, Complex Analysis
Biology of Infectious Disease, From Atoms to Molecules, Genetics and Evolution, Introduction to Physiology, Molecules, Cells and Organs, Cell Biology, Molecular Genetics, Microbiology, Biodiversity and Ecology of the Amazon, Soils: An Introduction, Renewable Energy, Fundamentals of Physics I & II
Economics and Economic History
Principles of Economics, The American Economy, The Economic History of Globalization I: 1492-1800, The Economic History of Globalization II: 1789-1914
Doing History: An Introduction to the Discipline, Native Americans and Africans in the Atlantic World, Early American History, The South after the Civil War, American History Reconstruction to the Present, Civil Rights Movement, The Progressive Tradition in American Education, Environmental History and Politics, The Ottoman Empire, Mao’s China and Beyond, Primary Documents in U.S. History
History and Philosophy of Science
Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Origins of Modern Science, Science in the Golden Age of Islam, Darwin in Context
Introduction to Philosophy, Critical Reasoning and Informal Logic, Early Modern Philosophy, Existentialism, Contemporary Political Philosophy, Medical Ethics, The Problems of Socratic Citizenship, Freud and Philosophy, Multicultural Philosophy
History of European Political Thought, Political Economy, Neoliberalism and Its Critics, Migration and Diaspora in Global Perspective, Comparative African Politics, Democracy as a Way of Life, Feminism and Modern Political Thought, Introduction to Latin American Studies: History, Culture, Politics, Political Orders of Non-Democratic Regimes, International Politics and Diplomacy
Introduction to Public Health, Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Quantitative Research Methods, Qualitative Research Methods, Evaluation Research Methods, Public Health and Food Production, Medical Anthropology and Public Health, Aging and Public Health, Social and Economic Determinants of Health, Introduction to Environmental Health Sciences, Urban Spaces and Health
Buddhist Thought and Practice, The Book of Genesis, Islam in America: History, Thought, and Practice, Religion, Race and Nation in American History
Sociology and Anthropology
Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Thinking Sociologically, After Authenticity: Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Geography of Development, Middle Eastern Modernities, Sociology of Accident and Disaster, Anthropology of Time and Space, Nature in the Americas
“This is the hardest and most important thing I’ve ever done.”
Areas of career development
While earning degrees and after they’ve graduated, students have opportunities to deepen their expertise in areas of career development. These specializations begin in prison and continue after students have been released, through paid internships and fellowships, specialized training, and career guidance.
The Public Health curricular specialization is designed to prepare students for careers in the rapidly changing fields of Public Health, healthcare, and community health. Students who complete the entire seven-course specialization are proficient in the core competencies of Public Health graduate programs, including research design and implementation.
Urban Farming and Sustainability
The Urban Farming and Sustainability program prepares students for careers in farming, food justice, regional food systems, and sustainability. The program combines traditional academic coursework with hands-on gardening experience and direct civic participation. BPI maintains organic gardens in Woodbourne and Fishkill Correctional Facilities.
Students preparing for opportunities in the field of computer science, or computer-based work in other fields, can pursue coursework in data structures, computer architecture, programming languages, web development, and media design.
Teaching the TASC
BPI-TASC provides innovative, academically-oriented high school equivalency and college preparatory instruction to young people in New York City. While still incarcerated, BPI students develop teaching expertise and experience through courses and workshops ranging from the history of education to instructor training for the high school equivalency exams.
By The Numbers
Extracurricular college life
BPI in Action
George Chochos earned his BA from BPI, returned home in 2011, then made the papers when he completed his Master’s of Divinity from Yale Divinity School in 2016 – “From Jail to Yale” read the headline. George subsequently earned a Master of Sacred Theology at Yale. George has previously served as Associate Minister at Union Missionary Baptist Church in Albany, NY and as addiction counselor for the Bridgeport Rescue Mission in Connecticut. Today he is Assistant Director of Program Management, Executive Education for the Georgetown Pivot Program at Georgetown University.
BPI’s Public Health curriculum is an academic program organized to launch professional careers in public health. Across six college-in-prison sites, BPI offered 26 Public Health courses in the 2018-19 academic year. The academic curriculum culminates in a formal Public Health Specialization and has included in-prison showcases of student research projects attended by professionals including then-commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Mary Bassett. Students received critical feedback, valuable preparation for graduate school, and insight to pursue careers in Public Health.
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 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.