College in Prison: Reading in an Age of Mass Incarceration

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    Daniel Karpowitz

    Publisher: Rutgers University Press

    Year: 2017

    Format: Hardcover

    Size: 235 pages

    ISBN: 9780813584126

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Over the years, American colleges and universities have made various efforts to provide prisoners with access to education. However, few of these outreach programs presume that incarcerated men and women can rise to the challenge of a truly rigorous college curriculum. The Bard Prison Initiative is different.

College in Prison chronicles how, since 2001, Bard College has provided hundreds of incarcerated men and women across the country access to a high-quality liberal arts education. Earning degrees in subjects ranging from Mandarin to advanced mathematics, graduates have, upon release, gone on to rewarding careers and elite graduate and professional programs. Yet this is more than just a story of exceptional individuals triumphing against the odds. It is a study in how the liberal arts can alter the landscape of some of our most important public institutions giving people from all walks of life a chance to enrich their minds and expand their opportunities.

Drawing on fifteen years of experience as a director of and teacher within the Bard Prison Initiative, Daniel Karpowitz tells the story of BPI's development from a small pilot project to a nationwide network. At the same time, he recounts dramatic scenes from in and around college-in-prison classrooms pinpointing the contested meanings that emerge in moments of highly-charged reading, writing, and public speaking. Through examining the transformative encounter between two characteristically American institutions-the undergraduate college and the modern penitentiary-
College in Prison makes a powerful case for why liberal arts education is still vital to the future of democracy in the United States.
What People Are Saying
"Makes a convincing 'case for college in prison' ... carefully documenting the great many benefits that its graduates receive.... At the same time, remind[s] us how far our higher-education system has strayed from the humanistic ideals at the heart of the Bard prison project." The New York Review of Books

"Karpowitz moves between scholarly examinations and novelistic narrative recreations of his classes that allow the students' voices (albeit filtered) to be heard ... These stories provide a fresh representation of the imprisoned, highlighting their heterogeneity and humanity and convincing the reader to fight against 'the well-meaning but insidious bigotry of low expectations.'" 
Publishers Weekly

"[Karpowitz] shows pedagogical passion in his account of teaching (and learning from) imprisoned men and women, via discussions of Nietzsche, 
Crime and Punishment, James Baldwin and the US Constitution's silence on slavery." Times Higher Education

"A must-read for any educator or anyone interested in better understanding the transcendental power of higher education."
New York Journal of Books

"If you seek inspiration in these depressing times, if you need one iota of decency to keep you going, if you despair that Donald Trump's lack of humility will permeate every aspect of our culture, search no further. Read Daniel Karpowitz's stirring commitment to higher education in prisons."

"From its first gripping anecdote to its concluding reflections about inequality,
College in Prison is a compelling, deeply moving, and urgently important book.  Daniel Karpowitz makes a powerful argument for real liberal education (not therapy) in prisons, and he challenges all of us who sit in elite institutions to do much more for non-elite students. In the process, he offers an unforgettable account of what a real liberal education is and how it interacts with our flawed society." Martha Nussbaum ― Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, Univ. of Chicago, bestselling author

"Drawing on more than a decade of work with the Bard Prison Initiative, Daniel Karpowitz gives us a thoughtful and timely perspective on mass incarceration in America, and the promise of a liberal arts education for those behind bars. 
College in Prison should be required reading for academics and policymakers alike." Neera Tanden ― President & CEO, Center for American Progress

"For more than a decade, incarcerated men and women-with their 'Ivory Tower' allies-have been building elite private colleges in the prison systems of New York and other states. Daniel Karpowitz details their collective struggles, and, in doing so, he rediscovers the great social promise of the liberal arts." Craig Steven Wilder ― 
author of Ebony & Ivy

"The story of the Bard Prison Initiative is a symbol of hope in the era of mass incarceration. Daniel Karpowitz brings to life the men in this innovative program, who remind us how powerful education can be in our lives." Marc Mauer ― 
Executive Director, The Sentencing Project and author of Race to Incarcerate

"In gripping detail, Karpowitz offers a human-driven account of efforts to reestablish higher education in America's prisons. Along the way, we're faced with the moral challenge: by what right do we restrict access to the country's best innovations to those who languish in its most barbarous?" Glenn E. Martin ―
Founder and President, Just Leadership USA

College in Prison is a deeply thoughtful meditation on one of the most pressing issues related to the US mass incarceration crisis: the inimitable, invaluable power of higher education behind bars. Karpowitz approaches this vital subject with the sensitivity of a practitioner and the meticulous analysis of a scholar, producing a worthy study that speaks to hearts and minds both." Baz Dreisinger ― author of Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World

"This is a book for our time. It firmly plants college access as a core aspect in the prison reform agenda and infuses that agenda with humanity and hope. Karpowitz describes the teachers and students with kindness and honesty so that we see real people struggling to breathe the life of curiosity and engagement into the soul-killing place that prison can too often be. If you care about prison reform, this book will rock you." Todd R. Clear ― 
author of Imprisoning Communities

College in Prison is an absolutely unforgettable story of how and why an ambitious program at a relatively small New York-based academic institution might hold the key to a revolutionary way of re-imagining our nation's approach to mass incarceration. Karpowitz has written a wonderfully sophisticated and moving story about his choice to devote the bulk of his adult life to a powerful project that takes prisoners and their possible futures incredibly seriously. Reading this text closely means never thinking about the implications of imprisonment quite the same way again." John L. Jackson, Jr. ― Dean, School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania

"Using his fascinating experiences with the Bard Prison Initiative, Daniel Karpowitz presents a refreshing take on pressing academic and social questions. This is an important story to tell." Joshua M. Price ― 
author of Prison and Social Death

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