Established in 1997, the offers women who are inmates at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility coursework that leads to an Associate of Arts degree and beyond. In the wake of 1994’s discontinuance of public funds supporting prison education programming, various colleges in the region met to design a new Bedford Hills program supported by private funding. Operated by Marymount Manhattan College, the program features faculty from other nearby colleges as well such as Mercy College, Sarah Lawrence, Barnard College, and others. Currently, each semester regularly sees more than 175 students working toward their degrees and earning college credits.
Marymount Manhattan College offers Bedford Hills program participants the opportunity to take college preparatory classes, earn an Associate of Arts degree, and earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. To apply to the program, inmates of Bedford Hills must have either a high school diploma or a GED. Moreover, upon taking placement tests, participants may initially have to take college preparatory classes to prepare for the degree programs themselves. All degree-seeking candidates must take general education courses just as any other college-level students.
Typically, program participants take two to three courses per semester. The college offers anywhere between fourteen and sixteen classes each semester at Bedford Hills. Participating students take coursework such as literature, art, business, history, the sciences, and other classes that any student attending Marymount Manhattan coursework on the outside would take. To date, the program has conferred ninety-eight Associate’s degrees and forty-four Bachelor’s degrees.
Enriching Participants’ Lives through Education
Marymount Manhattan College loans textbooks to students each semester. The college also provides necessary supplies like paper and other resources needed for each course. Yet the resources do not stop there. The Bedford Hills education program also has a networked computer lab, library, and conference space known collectively as the College Learning Center. In this way, participating students have access to materials that complement their studies. The meeting area is an important part of the center allowing students to meet with tutors.
In addition to the College Learning Center and the coursework itself, the program also features “a rich slate of academic and extracurricular activities to enhance the students’ college experience,” according to the Marymount Manhattan website (mmm.edu/study/resources/academicachievement/bhcp.html). Some of these extras include lectures or workshops by guest speakers, guest authors, visiting poets, filmmakers, and other noteworthy artists. Students participate in poetry slams as well as “read-alouds” where they share some of their best work from the semester. Such things naturally occur at Marymount Manhattan College and other colleges regularly, so it was vital to program designers that these aspects of higher education be included in the Bedford Hills program, too.
More Important Features of the Bedford Hills College Program
One of the hallmark traits of the Bedford Hills program is the fact that Marymount Hills College views the prison facility as an extension campus. Program participants are members of the college’s student body and treated as such. As expected, this has profound impact on participants who ultimately find the experience uplifting and transformative. One way the college invites participants to see themselves as part of a larger community of learning is through the Crossing Borders Conferences that are held at Bedford Hills. Periodically held, these conferences include faculty from Marymount College and other participating colleges who meet for day-long conferencing along with Bedford Hills participants. By sharing their work on a wide variety of topics, students gain a new perspective on their studies as well as their lives—and future lives beyond the confines of prison.
From time to time the program also holds art exhibitions for Bedford Hills participants to showcase their work. Various people from the outside also attend these art exhibitions allowing participants to discuss their work with new people and expand their knowledge through discussion as well as the presentation experience. Students also contribute and manage a newsletter that is shared with the entire prison population. Consequently, inmates who are able to participate in the college program gain various types of experience that dramatically alter their prison experience. Inmates view the program with esteem and, of course, many have and continue to use their educational experience at the prison as a vehicle to a better and more rewarding life.