Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Racial Justice | Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

COLLEGE BEHIND BARS (New Series)

Airs Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 25-26, 2019 at 9 - 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) students at Eastern New York Correctional Facili...

Credit: Courtesy of Skiff Mountain Films

Above: Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) students at Eastern New York Correctional Facility in an advanced bachelor’s degree seminar.

COLLEGE BEHIND BARS, a four-part documentary film series directed by award-winning filmmaker Lynn Novick, produced by Sarah Botstein, and executive produced by Ken Burns, tells the story of a small group of incarcerated men and women struggling to earn college degrees and turn their lives around in one of the most rigorous and effective prison education programs in the United States – the Bard Prison Initiative.

COLLEGE BEHIND BARS: Extended Trailer

Explore the transformative power of education through the eyes of a dozen incarcerated men and women trying to earn college degrees –and a chance at redemption –from one of the country’s most rigorous prison education programs.

Shot over four years in maximum and medium security prisons in New York State, the four-hour film takes viewers on a stark and intimate journey into one of the most pressing issues of our time – our failure to provide meaningful rehabilitation for the over two million Americans living behind bars.

Through the personal stories of the students and their families, the film reveals the transformative power of higher education and puts a human face on America’s criminal justice crisis.

It raises questions we urgently need to address: What is prison for? Who has access to educational opportunity? Who among us is capable of academic excellence? How can we have justice without redemption?

COLLEGE BEHIND BARS: Inside Look

The subjects and filmmakers reveal the inspiring story of how the power of education can change lives in COLLEGE BEHIND BARS.

“This film challenges conventional wisdom about education and incarceration, and raises questions we urgently need to address,” Novick said. “What ultimately is prison for? Who in America has access to educational opportunity? Who among us is capable of academic excellence? How can we break the cycle of recidivism? How can we have justice without redemption?”

EPISODE GUIDE:

Part 1: "No One Ever Taught Me Any of That" airs Monday, Nov. 25 at 9 p.m. - Incarcerated men and women in New York State are admitted to the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), one of the most rigorous college programs in America. As they begin their studies at Eastern and Taconic Correctional facilities, they discover that they will be held to the same high standards as Bard College students on the main campus in Annandale-on-Hudson. Jule, who earned his BA in German Studies in 2012, comes to terms with the crime that led to his incarceration and finally faces the parole board after twenty-one and a half years behind bars.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Skiff Mountain Films

Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) students at Eastern New York Correctional Facility line up for the count.

Part 2: "I’m Trying to Get Home to My Family, Too” airs Monday, Nov. 25 at 10 p.m. - Sebastian, Dyjuan and Tamara reflect on the difficult circumstances of their childhood, while the debate team prepares to face the University of Vermont. Shawnta, Tamika and Tamara make great strides academically, only to discover that BPI keeps raising the bar. Brian and Rodney are accused of breaking prison rules and sent to the solitary housing unit, SHU, their education in serious jeopardy. Meanwhile, Jule returns home.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Skiff Mountain Films

Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) students in a literature seminar at Taconic Correctional Facility.

Part 3: "Every Single Word Matters” airs Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 9 p.m. - The debate union faces their rival across the river, West Point. Rodney, Sebastian and Giovannie embark on year-long senior projects. Newly released from federal prison, Dyjuan’s younger brother, Kanan, comes for a visit, as does Rodney’s sister, Elitha. Tamara receives devastating news from home, and Shawnta reckons with her own path to prison. In New York City, Jule struggles to find work.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Skiff Mountain Films

Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) students conjugate Spanish verbs at Eastern New York Correctional Facility.

Part 4: “Home is a Work in Progress" airs Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 10 p.m. - The debate union faces Harvard. While Rodney and Sebastian complete their 100-page senior projects and present them to faculty, Giovannie gets into trouble and is sent to SHU, not able to complete his project before being released. At graduation at Taconic, Tamara, Tamika and Shawnta receive associate degrees, while at Eastern, Rodney and Sebastian receive bachelor’s degrees.

When Bard Prison Initiative Students Debated Harvard

When incarcerated students from the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) Debate Union beat a team from Harvard, their victory made headlines around the world. BPI argued in favor of the proposition that “public schools should be allowed to deny admission to undocumented children.”

Watch On Your Schedule:

Episodes will be available for viewing on demand for a limited time after each broadcast. Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

Join The Conversation:

Lynn Novick is on Instagram and you can follow @LynnNovick on Twitter.

Ken Burns is on Facebook. UNUM Ken Burns on Instagram.

PBS is on Facebook, Instagram, and you can follow @PBS on Twitter.

#CollegeBehindBarsPBS

Photo credit: Courtesy of Skiff Mountain Films

Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) graduates celebrate at Taconic Correctional Facility in June, 2017.

CREDITS:

The series is directed and produced by Lynn Novick; produced by Sarah Botstein; edited by Tricia Reidy, ACE; produced by Salimah El-Amin and Mariah Doran; original music by Jongnic Bontemps; cinematography by Buddy Squires, ASC and Nadia Hallgren. Ken Burns is executive producer. COLLEGE BEHIND BARS is a production of Skiff Mountain Films, in association with Florentine Films and WETA-TV.

Major Funding for COLLEGE BEHIND BARS was provided by members of The Better Angels Society, including John and Catherine Debs, the Cousins Family Foundation, the Abrams Foundation, Schwartz/Reisman Foundation, Ted Dintersmith and Elizabeth Hazard, and Bonnie and Tom McCloskey; Ford Foundation/JustFilms; National Endowment for the Humanities; Meg & Tomas Bergstrand; The Lise Strickler and Mark Gallogly Charitable Fund; The Silicon Valley Community Foundation and PBS.

FEATURED PODCAST

San Diego News Matters podcast branding

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.

  • Every weekday afternoon, we’ll send you our top TV picks so you can hear about upcoming programs and never miss your favorite shows.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.