The Bard Prison Initiative was started in 1999 by a then-student of Bard College who encouraged fellow students to participate in tutoring at local prisons. They now have six satellite campuses around New York state, awarding degrees to incarcerated inmates annually. And they have a debate team that just destroyed Harvard! DESTROYED. The winning debaters, Carl Snyder, Dyjuan Tatro and Carlos Polanco, are all currently serving sentences. And the Harvard team? Well, they're pretty good at looking like stock images of angry rich kids:
To be fair, the Crimson debaters handled their loss with grace, minus the fact that no one's taught them to not use the word "articulate," writing "There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend,and we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event."
There has been some controversy over the program, as there are law-abiding New Yorkers (or at least ones who've never been caught) struggling to put themselves through college, and a plan to support BPI with taxpayer money was squashed last year. But in the long run, it costs a lot less to educate people than it does to imprison them their entire lives. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The Bard program’s leaders say that of more than 300 alumni who earned degrees while in custody, less than 2% returned to prison within three years, the standard time frame for measuring recidivism.
In New York state as a whole, by contrast, about 40% of ex-offenders end up back in prison, mostly because of parole violations, according to the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
Turns out educating people and giving them opportunities in the work force prevents crime! The subject of the debate touched on these issues as well. The statement the BPI team were asked to defend was “Public schools in the United States should have the ability to deny enrollment to undocumented students.” It was probably hard enough for the inmates to take this position, but keep in mind they're not allowed to casually Google sh*t like we are. All their books and articles for research had to be approved by the prison administration, which can take weeks. Next time you feel like you can't face a challenge, think of these guys. They don't even have the Internet and they're better than Harvard.