Filmmaker Lynn Novick’s new documentary “College Behind Bars,” set to air on PBS later this month, follows the journeys of men and women pursuing academic degrees while in prison. In doing so, it illustrates the life-changing nature of educational opportunity while also putting a human face on mass incarceration and, as the film’s website puts it, “our failure to provide meaningful rehabilitation for the over two million Americans living behind bars.”
Prison education programs, including the one featured in Novick’s film, the Bard Prison Initiative, are among efforts to address that failure across the nation. Locally, both St. Louis University and Washington University run programs that bring faculty members to several of the region’s correctional institutions to lead college-level classes. And like other such programs, they boast extremely low recidivism rates for participants who have since been released from prison.
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Novick joined host Sarah Fenske to discuss her film and the critical issues it puts in the spotlight. An alumnus of the Bard Prison Initiative, Salih Israil, participated in the conversation, too, as did Paul Lynch, the director of SLU’s Prison Program.