Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


A Former Drug Dealer Gives A Great Defense Of The Liberal Arts

The Bard Prison Initiative gives inmates at six prisons around New York state the opportunity to study in person with professors from top colleges and universities in the region.

As I've reiterated previously, we need far more of these programs. Moreover, we need similar kinds of funding and support for the prison education programs that are being led by community-based organizations, and that help prisoners understand their incarceration experiences, indeed the incarceration state in this nation more generally, through an African / African American historical and cultural lens.

Brief excerpts, with links to additional data sources and additional information resources...

It's one of only a few dozen programs around the country that actually awards college degrees to prisoners — a few thousand per year out of the 2.3 million people in prison.

"I did 20 years in prison and I went to prison when I was 17 years old," he told me simply. At the age when many young people are preparing for college, Hughes instead became one of the 1 in 15 black men who are incarcerated (the figure for whites is 1 in 106). He was sentenced for two crimes, first-degree manslaughter and sale of narcotics. And mandatory sentencing laws meant he would spend his entire youth atoning for his crimes, while others are busy getting an education, working, starting families and contributing to their communities.

For too many people, incarceration is a formative experience, not a reformative one. Within five years of their release, more than 3 out of 4 ex-inmates are arrested again.

For students in the Bard program, the figure is much lower. Out of the 300 students who have graduated, only 4 percent have returned to prison.

This was a young man who hadn't seen much of the world beyond his own neighborhood. He said his studies offered him a new perspective on the wider world and on his own past, and enabled him to "visualize" his future.

"I'm in a position, because of Bard, to be able to really see the world in the way that I should have seen it years ago," he said. "It's a little bit easier for me to navigate through society because of how Bard prepared me. That's what a liberal arts education can really do for a person such as myself, or anybody who is trying to find their own way in life."

College-in-prison programs used to be paid for by the federal Pell Grant. In 1994, President Bill Clinton made prisoners ineligible for this money, and enrollment collapsed. In February this year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly backed the idea of reinstating state aid for college in prison. He pointed specifically to the accomplishments of BPI graduates.

But he quickly dropped the plan after facing opposition in the state Legislature. Republican state Sen. Greg Ball launched a petition against Cuomo's plan, arguing that funding college for inmates was inappropriate at a time when families in the state were struggling to send their children to college.

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