In­mates hit the books to have a fu­ture in PBS’ ‘Col­lege Be­hind Bars’

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Tv & Cable Guide - BY GE­ORGE DICKIE

The age-old de­bate about whether in­car­cer­a­tion is for pun­ish­ment or re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion gets a ve­he­ment ar­gu­ment for the lat­ter in a doc­u­men­tary pre­mier­ing this week on PBS.

On “Col­lege Be­hind Bars,” a four-part, four-hour film air­ing Mon­day and Tues­day, Nov. 2526 (check lo­cal list­ings), view­ers are in­tro­duced to the Bard Prison Ini­tia­tive, a rig­or­ous ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram run by up­state New York’s Bard Col­lege that pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­mates to earn as­so­ciates and bach­e­lor’s de­grees in six prisons across the state.

Di­rected by Lynn Novick (“The Viet­nam War,” “Base­ball”) and pro­duced by her long­time col­lab­o­ra­tors Ken Burns and Sarah Bot­stein, the doc­u­men­tary goes inside medium and max­i­mum se­cu­rity prisons to meet the stu­dents and ed­u­ca­tors in the pro­gram and touch on the ques­tions sur­round­ing it, chief among them whether our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem is do­ing enough to pre­pare in­car­cer­ated men and women to reen­ter so­ci­ety and be­come pro­duc­tive cit­i­zens.

“One of the things that makes the pro­gram unique,” Bot­stein ex­plained to a re­cent gath­er­ing of jour­nal­ists in Bev­erly Hills, Calif., “is its rigor and its com­mit­ment to pro­vid­ing the same ed­u­ca­tion that ... they do on the main Bard Col­lege cam­pus, and that’s a cen­trally im­por­tant, fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of the cur­ricu­lum. And hav­ing said that, I think be­ing in a class­room and film­ing with th­ese stu­dents over the last four years made all of us and ev­ery­one in our crew ques­tion our own ed­u­ca­tion and how hard we had worked and how se­ri­ously they took their ed­u­ca­tion and how mean­ing­ful, in this day and age, a lib­eral arts ed­u­ca­tion can be.”

The film points out that of the 630,000 in­mates that are re­leased an­nu­ally in the U.S., nearly half wind up back in prison within five years, trapped in a cy­cle of im­pris­on­ment, re­lease and rein­car­cer­a­tion. As one in­mate in the film says, “Prison is to pun­ish. ... In­di­vid­u­als are not be­ing pre­pared for any­thing other than what they’ve al­ready been do­ing – crime.”

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