College classes in maximum security: "It gives you meaning"

NPR examines the Bard Prison Initiative, which pairs graduates with employers to give them yearlong professional positions, and the Ford Foundation's participation in the program.

Published in NPR | March 27, 2017
College classes in maximum security: 'It gives you meaning'
By Yuki Noguchi

More than 650,000 prisoners are released every year in the U.S., but no federal agency tracks the unemployment rate for this population. Experts say low reading and technological literacy, as well as reluctance among employers to hire former convicts, means many drop out of the labor force altogether.

Low employment levels for that group cost between $57 billion and $65 billion annually in lost economic activity, according to a 2010 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

But there are a handful of novel initiatives trying to turn that narrative around, by bringing college education and professional training, and even entrepreneurship programs behind bars. Advocates of such programs say by teaching inmates at a higher level, they reduce financial and social costs to society.

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The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 75 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.