More than two million Americans are currently incarcerated. As prison reform continues to feature prominently in the talking points of national discussion, one New York institution has made productive strides in remedying the issue at hand – creating a program that fosters rehabilitation through educational opportunity.
Today, Bard College enrolls about 300 incarcerated students, affording them access to a liberal arts education while serving their sentence. Re-imagining criminal justice as a means of reintegration rather than punishment, the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) can be credited with producing one of the most rigorous and effective prison education programs in the United States.
Ken Burns Presents College Behind Bars is a four-part documentary directed by award-winning filmmaker Lynn Novick and produced by Sarah Botstein that explores the inner workings of the BPI. The film follows a group of incarcerated men and women as they handle intensive curriculum, earn their degrees, and make a concentrated effort to turn their lives around. Executive produced by Ken Burns, the documentary offers powerful insight into the transformative nature of academic achievement.
Through a series of personal stories from the students and their families, as well as visits to the prisons and penitentiaries of New York State, the film gives a human face to the American criminal justice system. While addressing critical issues, it also raises urgent questions: What is the ultimate goal of prison? Who deserves access to educational opportunity? Who among us is capable of academic excellence? And how can we have justice without redemption?
Parts one and two of Ken Burns Presents College Behind Bars premiere back-to-back on June 18 at 9 p.m., while parts three and four premiere back-to-back on June 25 at 9 p.m.
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