Institutional News

Prison Education Initiative Awarded $50,000 from Ford Foundation

Bennington College’s Prison Education Initiative (PEI) has been awarded a grant of $50,000 from the Ford Foundation.

The Ford Foundation’s grant will help provide access to a Bennington education for inmates at Great Meadow, a maximum-security men’s prison in Comstock, New York. Now in its fifth year of offering for-credit and college preparatory courses, the Bennington Prison Education Initiative recently received accreditation to offer a Bennington College associate’s degree.

"The Prison Education Initiative serves an atypical student population, with many serving life or virtual life sentences," said Isabel Roche, Interim President. "It is our hope that by providing a rigorous and intellectually stimulating liberal arts curriculum, we can improve our students' quality of life and foster a sense of dignity." 

Since PEI’s first class in 2015, the demand for the program has continually grown, and an increasing number of inmates wish to enroll in the program. 

PEI’s ultimate goal is to promote education as a lifelong pursuit, serving both those who will one day reenter society as productive members, along with those who will spend their lives in prison. Inmates serving long sentences tend to be leaders in the incarcerated community and have a strong influence over their peers. When these leaders participate in quality educational opportunities, they encourage others to pursue education as well. In addition to improving inmates’ overall quality of life, a successful educational record increases their chances of clemency or geriatric parole.

Research has shown that access to education shapes how inmate students make meaning of their worlds, cope with their sentences, and engage with others, which in turn has a positive impact on other aspects of prison life, including a reduction in violence and disruptive behavior. For PEI students, education is not a means to an end, but rather an end in itself, maximizing human potential through intellectual and spiritual development.