Three New York Inmates Beat Harvard Debate Team, Show that Education in Prisons is Beneficial


Three prisoners at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility in Napanoch, New York surprisingly defeated the nationally ranked Harvard debate team back three weeks ago.

The prisoners, Carl Snyder, Dyjuan Tatro and Carlos Polanco, are part of the Bard Prison Initiative where inmates at six New York prisons can enroll in a college program offered by Bard College.

This program is highly selective, in part because the inmates who are chosen to take part in the program receive an actual degree from Bard, which is hard enough to achieve without being in prison. 10 inmates apply for each spot available. The program is also lucrative because it is free for the inmates (the cost is covered by private donors), and professors from Bard actually go to the prisons and teach the inmates in 60 courses that are offered by the college.

BPI (Bard Prison Initiative) has grown immensely since its start just 15 years ago in 2001. It started with 15 students and now boasts 300 students at both medium and maximum-security prisons.

But, how is this program helping inmates?

Well, according to an article by Vox, “40 percent of incarcerated individuals who leave federal and state prisons will commit new crimes or violate the terms of their release and be reincarcerated within three years.”

However, college education programs reduce an inmate’s chance of breaking the law again once released from prison. The Research and Development Corporation (RAND) did a study on exactly that in 2014, and the results were exceptional.

“[The study] found that inmates who took part in education programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years of their release,” according to Vox.

As for BPI, only 2 percent of inmates have returned to prison after being released, which poses an important question: Are educational programs for inmates only offered in New York? The answer is no.

Courtesy of RAND
Courtesy of RAND

In the state of Maryland, education is offered to over 9,000 inmates.

According to the Maryland Division of Workforce Development and Adult Learning, “Classes are organized…from basic literacy to adult secondary levels. After earning the high school diploma, offenders are eligible for occupational programs or advanced education at a local partnering college.”

Goucher College is one of those partnering colleges, and has its own education program called Goucher Prison Education Partnership.

As Obama recently reinstated Pell Grants for select prisoners, soon the University of Maryland may be open to its own program for inmates.

As for the Harvard debate team, they seem to be taking the loss lightly.

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