Bard Prison Initiative Receives $4.5M in Funding

ANNANDALE-ON-HUSON – Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) announced that the organization is receiving $4.5 million in congressionally direct funding to deepen Bard’s college-in-prison work across 7 New York State prisons as well its reentry and alumni programs throughout the state. The funding was secured by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and was supported by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Ritchie Torres (NY-15).

“On behalf of the College, I’d like to express my gratitude to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and Representative Torres for securing this important funding,” said Bard College President Leon Botstein. “The Bard Prison Initiative has led the nation in shaping the way we think about higher education for incarcerated people and its role in changing the impact of imprisonment for the better, inside the prison system and beyond.”

“We are deeply grateful to Senate Majority Leader Schumer for his generous support of the Bard Prison Initiative. This funding will help us expand the place of education, of hope, and a commitment to people’s futures within New York’s criminal justice system and its prisons,” BPI Executive Director Max Kenner. In New York and nationally we are restoring real educational opportunities to prisons. The sustained bipartisan support of college-in-prison – will reduce crime, increase safety, and create radical inroads to higher education. Thank you, Representative Torres, for supporting BPI funding in the House and Senator Gillibrand for your support as well.”

“The Bard Prison Initiative is a vital institution that has been supporting incarcerated individuals and their families for decades,” said U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY-15). “I am proud to have secured $4,500,000 for the Bard College here in New York for prison education and reentry programs alongside Senators Schumer and Gillibrand. This funding will help ensure that those incarcerated have a chance at a better, more meaningful life when released.”

BPI enrolls more than 400 incarcerated students in degree granting programs. Students earn Bard college AA and BA degrees through the program. BPI begins working with students to plan their reentry at least a year ahead of release and then works with students and alumni as they transition back into the community and throughout their careers. Reentry services at BPI include continuing education, career development, housing services, and mental wellness.

In the “Effects of College in Prison and Policy Implications,” authors Matthew Denney and Robert Tynes find that participation in a college-in-prison program leads to a “large and significant reduction in recidivism rates” and that people with “higher levels of participation” in a college in prison program recidivate at lower levels. The recidivism rate for BPI students who earn an AA degree is 8.7% but that of students who go on to earn a BA degree falls to 3.1%. These rates stand in stark contrast to the national recidivism rate which is above 60%.

In addition to lowering recidivism, providing college opportunities in prison has been found to deliver strong employment outcomes, develop employer-demanded skills, make prisons safer, and strengthen pathways to successful reentry. These programs also hold the unique potential to improve students’ lives, help narrow racial and economic equity gaps in postsecondary attainment and workforce participation, strengthen local economies and communities, and disrupt cycles of incarceration that continue to target, harm, and limit opportunity for Black and Brown people and people from low-income backgrounds.

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