Liberal Arts Education

BETTER ANGELS PODCAST Max Kenner: how prison education gives hope

BPI's Executive Director Max Kenner sat down with Sarah Brown on the Better Angels Podcast, originally posted on Their World and reproduced below. “I think you’re exactly right that mass incarceration is a symptom, if not the most prominent system of structural racism in the… Read More 

Darren Mack
News | Alumni Advocacy

Access to higher ed for incarcerated students is essential to criminal justice reform

As College Behind Bars puts a spotlight on the issue of college in prison, 25 years after the removal of Pell Grants for people in prison, BPI Alumnus Darren Mack '13 shares his thoughts on higher education’s role in criminal justice reform and the… Read More 

Event | Alumni Advocacy

Changing the Face of Tech

On Wednesday, September 18th, BPI Restart Fellow and coordinator, Ornell Caesar '16 joins fellow BPI alum Antoine Patton '12 and Jenn Schiffer for Changing the Face of Tech: a Tech & Reentry Gathering. This first gathering has been organized in partnership between Restart and… Read More 

students discussing in library
News | Advocacy / Policy

Reversing the Tide

Ellen Condliffe Lagemann is the author of Liberating Minds: The Case for College in Prison (The New Press, 2016), from which this article contains excerpts. She was formerly the Levy Institute Research Professor at Bard College and a Distinguished Fellow at the Bard Prison… Read More 

The Bard Prison Initiative to be Featured at Printers Row Lit Fest


The Chicago Ambassador logo.

The Chicago Ambassador interviewed the head of BPI’s new Chicago office, Jessica Neptune. We’re thrilled that Jessica is helping expand BPI’s footprint in the mid-west, with programs well-established at Washington University, Grinnell College, and University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross College, and groundwork being laid for new programs in Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin!

How This Radical College for Inmates is Taking Its Program Outside the Walls

Nationally, nearly half of all inmates released from prison return there after committing another crime. But the recidivism rate among those who’ve earned college degrees through the Bard Prison Initiative, an adjunct program operated by liberal arts school Bard College inside six medium and maximum security prisons in New York, is far lower: Since the program began in 2001, more than 400 convicts have graduated and eventually been released. Just 2% end up back behind bars.

Most also have no trouble finding work. “It’s not that they just don’t return to prison,” says BPI founder and executive director Max Kenner. “It’s that they become independent middle-class taxpaying citizens, neighbors, and pals. They’re engaged in their communities and all kinds civic and positive and educational ways.”

The program is structured to resemble a classic college curriculum for associate and bachelor level degrees. BPI has roughly 60 classes overall, which span the liberal arts spectrum from advanced calculus to genetics, and Mandarin Chinese. Students are encouraged to take a full load—about four to five classes per semester—to complete their degrees within the same timeframe as those might outside the walls. Common majors include mathematics, humanities, and social studies, which include a senior thesis that must be defended in front of an academic committee.