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The Secret To Keeping Former Inmates Out Of Prison May Be A Liberal Arts Education

Inmates sit in the county jail. The state has seen a rise in crime, automobile accidents and drug usage recently, due in part to the oil boom.Getty Images/Andrew Burton

Bard College’s prisoner education program — the Bard Prison Initiative — has found an unlikely way to motivate former inmates to stay out of jail, NPR reports.

BPI is one of a few dozen programs around that country that offer prison inmates to study in person with college professors and obtain a full college degree. According to a report this weekend on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” many prisoners credit their liberal arts education for BPI’s success in keeping inmates from returning to jail.

While almost half of released prisoners nationwide return to prison, only 4% of BPI graduates are re-incarcerated, according to NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz. A 2013 study from the Department of Justice and the RAND Corporation found that inmates who participated in education programs in prison were 43% less likely to be re-incarcerated after release.

The importance of the liberal arts in prison education — rather than more practical studies — is unexpected. As BPI graduate Donnell Hughes told Kamenetz, the liberal arts are considered to be both more difficult and less useful than a vocational education.

“I was expecting to hear a story of redemption from Hughes, and he has one. I wasn’t expecting to hear a full-throated defence of the liberal arts,” Kamenetz writes.

Hughes is a former drug dealer who spent 20 years in prison for first-degree manslaughter and sale of narcotics. He told Kamenetz that studying the liberal arts helped give him direction after he was released from prison:

“We covered everything from the Cold War to present-day European politics,” [Hughes] said. “I studied a little bit of history, a little bit of economics, psychology, environmentalism, African politics, Asian politics. I even had a class on 13th century Mongols, which was a very intensive class. It was just an array of different interesting topics.”

“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.”

Read the full report on the Bard Prison Initiative at NPR >>

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