Bennington College

The entrance to Bennington College in Bennington.

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BENNINGTON — Bennington College’s Prison Education Initiative has been awarded a grant of $60,000 from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, the college said Monday in a press release.

Now in its seventh year, PEI brings Bennington College faculty to Great Meadow Correctional Facility, a maximum-security men’s prison in Comstock, NY, to provide a quality liberal arts education to incarcerated students.

“We are truly grateful for the financial support and the confidence shown in our program by the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation. This grant has allowed us to expand our course offerings for 2022, particularly in the humanities, and to develop future courses for students serving life or very long sentences,” said Annabel Davis-Goff, Director and Co-Founder of PEI.

“As we look back at the compounding crises of the last few years, the health-related needs of vulnerable communities have only grown. Our grantees have demonstrated tremendous resilience, creativity, and dedication to serving those in need, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have such detrimental impact,” said Alfred F. Kelly, Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Visa and Chair of the Foundation Board.

Funding from the Foundation will allow PEI to develop new courses and increase student services, staying true to the ideals of a Bennington education and meeting the unique needs of its students at Great Meadow, particularly as the program transitions back to in-person instruction following staff and faculty’s physical absence from the prison for three terms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. PEI is once again offering a full curriculum of classes for all students, with independent studies for advanced students serving very long sentences, the release stated.

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Increased support services are planned for 2022, which include increased advising for degree-seeking students, academic guidance for continuing education students, and informational sessions for potential students.

Since PEI’s first class in 2015, the demand for the program—which currently serves 44 students—has continually grown, and an increasing number of inmates wish to enroll in the program.

PEI’s ultimate goal is to promote education as a lifelong pursuit, serving both those who will one day reenter society as productive members, along with those who will spend their lives in prison. Inmates serving long sentences tend to be leaders in the incarcerated community and have a strong influence over their peers. When these leaders participate in quality educational opportunities, they encourage others to pursue education, as well. In addition to improving inmates’ overall quality of life, a successful educational record increases their chances of clemency or geriatric parole, the release said.

Research has shown that access to education shapes how inmate students make meaning of their worlds, cope with their sentences, and engage with others, which in turn has a positive impact on other aspects of prison life, including a reduction in violence and disruptive behavior. For PEI students, education is not a means to an end, but rather an end in itself, maximizing human potential through intellectual and spiritual development.

For more information, visit cabrinihealth.org or bennington.edu.


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