This fall, the documentary College Behind Bars, which examines the success of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) and the failure of the United States educational system in providing higher education in prisons, will air on PBS. The Crime Report discussed the documentary with BPI founder Max Kenner, BPI alumni Jule Hall and Giovannie Hernandez, College Behind Bars director Lynn Novick and producer Sarah Botstein.
In 1994, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act eliminated Pell Grant support for higher education programs in prisons and jails in the United States. This legislation negatively affected the lives of thousands of people who no longer had access to educational opportunities while incarcerated. In response, BPI was founded by undergraduates at Bard College in 1999. The initiative now supports college-level programming for incarcerated students in six New York state prisons.
“Prison is a shared common struggle, and there is a certain fellowship that comes with that,” Hernandez said. “My closest friends now are people I was formerly incarcerated with, even out here, because those are the people who can understand me the most, and who I can understand [the most]. Doing college is hard out here, doing college in prison is doubly hard. I really want to see my peers succeed, just as much as they want to see me succeed.”
BPI received the Changing Narratives Through Art grant as part of the Art for Justice Fund’s Fall 2018 cohort. College Behind Bars will air on local PBS stations on November 25 and November 26 and will be available for online streaming.