Creative Solutions: Prisoners & Liberal Arts

by Edward Henkler on November 18, 2014

Creative employment is a frequent topic on my blog. Today’s post will look at another creative solution to reduce recidivism for ex-cons, which was featured in the November 2014 Smithsonian magazine. The Great Escape  is focused on the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI). This program was developed by Max Kenner while a student at Bard. The BPI is a partial replacement for the Pell tuition grant program which funded most prison education programs. The BPI is a competitive program, requiring a written essay and interview. Intriguingly, the applicant’s criminal record and release date are not considered.

Prisoners + Liberal Arts Education (Nov-2014 Smithsonian)

The Bard program has spawned a related program, the Consortium for Liberal Arts in Prison. The programs aren’t for everyone and there has been criticism that educational efforts should focus on vocational skills. Others have suggested more traditional programs such as anti-violence, substance abuse, and spiritual programs. While those are appropriate for some, the Bard program seems to be attracting prisoners who want to make their families proud or to find a better future. Exposure to the liberal arts seems to be kindling a desire for better things.

BPI reminds me of another program focused on reducing recidivism amongst ex-cons. Volunteers of America has achieved remarkable success with keeping ex-cons out of prison. They also help people who have been homeless get back on track. The headline on their website says it best: “Volunteers of America is the charity that always steps forward to help the most vulnerable. For over 118 years, we have taken on the most difficult tasks to help the most under-served.”

When traditional approaches aren’t working, perhaps it’s time for creative solutions!

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