Coming to PBS tonight, Monday, November 25, and tomorrow, Tuesday, November 26:
COLLEGE BEHIND BARS
New York Film Festival 2019
Harlem Doc Fest
A four-part chronicle of incarcerated individuals seeking higher eduction degrees while serving time.
In New York State, a number of correctional facilities have partnered with Bard College to offer a college education to inmates. The Bard Prisoner Initiative is a competitive program using the same educational standards employed at the Annandale-on-Hudson campus, and offers associate and bachelor’s degrees. Director Lynn Novick profiles several inmates enrolled in the program, both male and female, as they study everything from calculus and classical literature to Mandarin and debate, culminating in sizeable senior thesis projects. Over several years, the series explores the impact of BPI on these individuals, how they succeed and fail at navigating their dual existence as students and prisoners, and the freedom and opportunity for not only advancement but in some cases redemption afforded by their participation. The multi-hour format serves the project well, allowing Novick to explore the complexity of her subjects, including the crimes they have committed and in some cases the heartbreaking setbacks they face due to the vagaries and harshness of the prison environment. The series is also able to address – to a limited extent – the controversies around prison education programs, including the shortsighted elimination of federal funding under the Clinton administration due to complaints that felons should be punished rather than given a free education – a sentiment that persists and is even voiced by the mother of one of the participants – despite the clear linkage between rehabilitative programs like BPI and lower recidivism rates. As a whole, Novick’s series is an affecting, humanistic exploration of the power of hope and second chances to turn lives around.