Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Bard Prison Initiative

I listen to Public Radio while I'm driving. This evening I heard a program on the Bard Prison Initiative. This is a privately funded program in five New York State prisons supported through Bard College. Similar programs are now imitated by several colleges in the USA and worldwide giving an incarcerated man or woman the opportunity to go to college while in prison. Budgets for all publicly funded programs were cut in 1995, ending educational opportunities in 350 prisons. According to my research, (www.bard.edu), to date, since 1999 when the Bard College project started one hundred fifty- seven degrees have been issued. The program enrolls approximately two hundred students across the five New York prisons. The results have been good, with the number of released convicts that find employment high and the number that re-offend low. All in all, I personally think the concept is a good one. If the incarcerated men and women are going to be released at some point, why not make the possibility that they would re-offend less? Isn't this better for society?
 Some families of victims object to the program questioning the moral value of making prison a positive place where a criminal can get a college degree. They point out that prison should be a place of punishment. I totally understand their argument. The anger and violation at being the victim of a crime is horrifically dark and ugly; the sense of evil is overwhelming.  However, while I do think that there are some crimes that are so horrible that a person should never be released, if an inmate is eventually going to be emancipated, why not attempt to lessen the possibility that he will repeat a crime?
While listening to the radio program and then reading about the program online, I was encouraged that this program exists. While I do not believe every criminal can be helped by education, I do believe that a good number can, and ultimately, isn't that better for society?
What do you think?

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