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Bennington College hosts discussion about higher education in prisons

BENNINGTON >> On Saturday, the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) at Bennington College hosted a panel discussion titled “Higher Education in Prisons Think Tank.”

The discussion was part of CAPA’s “Incarceration in America” initiative, which explores using public policy and political action to address the current United States prison system. The most recent event in this initiative before Friday’s was a theater performance in March titled “The Castle.”

The discussion focused on programs that currently bring higher education to New York State prisons. Max Kenner and Jed Tucker were representing the Bard Prison Initiative, which enrolls 300 inmates in full academic programs across six New York State prisons.

According to Tucker, who is the director of reentry of the Bard Prison Initiative, BPI treats its the prisons it serves like satellite college campuses. The courses that inmates take are identical to the ones offered on Bard’s campus. The initiative offers between 70 and 80 Bard courses each semester across the six participating programs, and it also runs extracurriculars: visits from the Bard student symphony, musical collaborations between campus students and inmate students, and guest lectures from Bard faculty and community members.

Tucker stressed that if Bennington College ever creates a similar higher education program in prisons, it must be “vigilant” about treating courses for inmates as it treats on-campus courses.

“Even as a small college, you are an unbelievably over-resourced institution compared to the [New York State] Department of Corrections,” Tucker said of what Bennington has to offer.

David Bond, a professor of social research and public action at Bennington College, participated in the Bard Prison Initiative for several semesters. He brought the courses he teaches to his Bennington students to inmates at the Woodbourne and Eastern correctional facilities in upstate New York.

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