BENNINGTON — Bennington College has been selected by the Department of Education to participate in a pilot program that will allow some incarcerated individuals to get a "Second Chance" at education.
Bennington College was one of 67 post-secondary institutions chosen to participate in the Second Chance Pell pilot program, which will allowed qualified incarcerated people to receive Pell grants to pursue their education. Bennington College is partnering with Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, N.Y.
"Education is fundamentally transformative," said Bennington College President Mariko Silver, "We are thrilled to have been selected by the Department of Education for their pilot program. This work has a tremendous impact — for individuals, their families, and society — and allows us to extend Bennington's educational philosophy into a world where it is most needed."
Bennington College has been working with Great Meadow Correctional Facility since last year, when they launched their Prison Education Initiative, which is part of the school's Center for the Advancement of Public Action. Currently, over 20 individuals who are incarcerated at that site are taking courses with transferable credits in literature, the social sciences, and history. "The funding via the Department of Education will allow PEI to offer a premier liberal arts education with an expanded curriculum in fast-growing fields like computer systems, environmental science and policy, and digital design," said the school in a release.
"Even more impressive than the level of ability of our students from the very first class at Great Meadow, is the speed of the progress they are making," said Annabel Davis-Goff, director of the Prison Education Initiative, "A great many of these men, if they had been offered a good education when they were children or adolescents, might have had other lives. They are hungry for education."
"One of our students told us that before the Bennington Prison Education Initiative, he used to spend his days zoning out in front of the television trying not to think," said David Bond, associate director of CAPA, "Now he spends his time studying and has discovered a new problem: there's not enough time in the day to learn what he wants to know before he's released. Education has transformed this prisoner into an engaged student and promising citizen."
Bennington College is the only Vermont school participating in the program. Other colleges and universities in New England that will participate are Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Mass., Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Conn., Quinebaug Valley Community College in Killingly, Conn., Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Conn., Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Conn., and the University of Maine at Augusta. There are also two upstate New York institutions participating, Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson and North Country Community College in Saranac Lake.
According to a 2014 study funded by the Department of Justice and conducted by the RAND Corporation, incarcerated individuals who participated in high-quality correctional education at all levels were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who didn't participate in any education programs.
"The evidence is clear," said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., "Promoting the education and job training for incarcerated individuals makes communities safer by reducing recidivism and saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration. I applaud the institutions that have partnered to develop high-quality programs that will equip these students with invaluable learning. The knowledge and skills they acquire will promote successful reintegration and enable them become active and engaged citizens."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.