College Behind Bars

Over the past four decades, America has become the world's leading jailer. We lock up people at a higher rate than any country in the world, four times as many today as we did in the 1970s. We spend $80,000,000,000 a year on corrections, not to mention the majority of whom are black or Hispanic and poor, are trapped in a cycle of arrest, detention, imprisonment, release, and reincarceration — for parole violations or for new crimes. As the New York Times recently editorialized, "The American experiment in mass incarceration has been a moral, legal, social, and economic disaster. It cannot end soon enough." As a society we are slowly mustering the political will to address this multi-dimensional dilemma, but what are we to do about the millions of Americans entering prison every year and the millions more already incarcerated — 700,000 of whom are released every year, the majority unprepared to live productive lives once they have returned to society? 

College Behind Bars is a documentary film that will shine a light on a critical aspect of this unsustainable crisis: the relationship between incarceration and education. This longitudinal film will reveal the academic, personal, and practical struggles, the failures and the successes, of a small group of incarcerated men and women who are working towards college degrees (in an extremely rigorous and highly successful program, the Bard Prison Initiative) while serving time in medium and maximum security prisons in New York State. Through their stories, this film will put a human face on mass incarceration and help spark a national conversation about justice, crime, and punishment, about race, retribution, recidivism, and rehabilitation. In the process, it will raise deeper questions: What is prison for? Who among us has been given, indeed who should be given, the opportunity to excel? Who in our society has the capacity to achieve academic excellence? 

Directed by Lynn Novick, produced by Sarah Botstein, Salimah El-Amin, Mariah Doran, and Lynn Novick.

This film is a production of Skiff Mountain Films in association with Florentine Films.