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Education In Prisons: Harvard vs. Prison




For decades, many have argued that providing education to inmates was an exercise in futility. This argument was destroyed when the Harvard debating team lost to their opponents from the Eastern New York Correctional Facility. The inmates promoted an argument which actually was the opposite of their personal beliefs. The debate issue was: “Public schools in the United States should have the ability to deny enrollment to undocumented students.”

The inmate debating team were three offenders convicted of violent crimes. The three opponents were undergraduates from Harvard. After one hour of hotly contested debate, the judges announced victory for the prison team. The prison debaters were part of a program, Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. The program provides a second chance to inmates hoping to build a better life.

Judge Mary Nugent, leading a veteran panel of judges, said the Bard team made a strong case that the schools attended by many undocumented children were failing so badly that students were simply being warehoused. The Harvard team stated they were taken by surprise by the arguments and the preparation of the New York prison team.

Of the 300 alumni inmates,who earned degrees in the Bard program, less than 2% returned to prison within three years. In New York state about 40% of ex-offenders are back in prison within three years of their release,according to the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

If we really want to reduce our high recidivism rate, we need to provide education to those inmates who want to change their lives.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of