“Quick Takes” is a feature of the Price of Business Digital Network, which USA Daily Times is an affiliate.
According to Ken Burns, who is the force behind this important four part video series that originally appeared on PBS, “College Behind Bars, a four-part documentary film series, tells the story of a small group of incarcerated men and women struggling to earn college degrees and turn their lives around in one of the most rigorous and effective prison education programs in the United States – the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI).
“Shot over four years in maximum and medium security prisons in New York State, the four-hour film takes viewers on a stark and intimate journey into one of the most pressing issues of our time – our failure to provide meaningful rehabilitation for the over two million Americans living behind bars. Through the personal stories of the students and their families, the film reveals the transformative power of higher education and puts a human face on America’s criminal justice crisis. It raises questions we urgently need to address: What is prison for? Who has access to educational opportunity? Who among us is capable of academic excellence? How can we have justice without redemption?”
BPI was founded by a Bard College undergraduate at the time named Max Kenner. He said said “BPI has produced astounding results in spite of its continuous struggles. Current data suggests the program has awarded nearly 350 degrees, and the recidivism rate is less than 2 percent.” Meanwhile recidivism for the rest of the state’s prison system is 50 percent. Furthermore, a study by the Rand Corporation found that every dollar spent on higher education on a prisoner saves taxpayers five dollars. The advantages of such a program are obvious on so many levels, with the biggest possibly being financial as the students that go away from these prisons lead productive and independent lives.
This series is smart, engaging, and accessible. Once you begin to watch it you will want to complete it. It reminds the viewer about the problem of crime and punishment in the United States. The viewer quickly sees that the US penal system isn’t about changing lives, which is a relief because if it were they are only making criminals more committed to their dangerous ways. US prisons are about retribution, revenge, and warehousing people. We should not be surprised by the results they produce. That is why the work of BPI is so gratifying.
This is must viewing.