Max Kenner '92
Education In Prison
Max Kenner is the founder and Executive Director of the Bard Prison Initiative, which provides the opportunity for incarcerated men and women to earn a Bard College degree while serving their sentences.
He conceived of and created the initiative as a student volunteer organization when he was an undergraduate at Bard in 1999—a moment when education programs in prisons had collapsed completely. After 30 years of eligibility for federal Pell Grants, in 1994 funding was cut and nearly all educational programs in hundreds of prisons dissolved, despite significant evidence that the programs were highly effective in reducing recidivism rates.
Max took notice and got involved.
After gaining the support of the College and cooperation of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, he shepherded the program into a credit-bearing and, subsequently, degree-granting program in 2001. In addition to organization management and program design for BPI, Max is responsible for fundraising and management of relations with New York State and the Department of Correctional Services.
Over the last decade, Max has led the expansion of BPI from a pilot program with 15 students to a nationally recognized education initiative enrolling over 250 students within five campuses in correctional facilities throughout New York State. Kenner has become a leading advocate for the national restoration of college-in-prison and frequently speaks publicly in a variety of forums about the BPI model in education and criminal justice policy. He is a co-founder of the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, which is supporting other colleges and universities in establishing and maintaining ambitious college-in-prison projects around the country.
Max attended St. Anne’s and Bard College after Grace, He serves as Vice President for Institutional Initiatives and Advisor to the President on Public Policy & College Affairs at Bard College.
“Nothing prepares people for the challenges of the workforce like a liberal education,”
- Max started the Bard Prison Initiative while still an undergrad student; it has grown to be the largest program of its kind.
- The program currently enrolls almost 275 incarcerated men and women full time with the college. More than 60 academic classes are offered every semester across six medium- and maximum-security prisons in New York State.
- Launched with fifteen students a decade ago, the program has awarded nearly 250 Associate’s and Bachelor of Arts degrees from Bard College (as of 2013).
- Nationwide, nearly 68 out of every 100 prisoners are rearrested within three years of release, and more than half return to prison. Among formally incarcerated Bard students, less than 4% have returned to prison.
- The initiative secured funding for a consortium to establish and maintain college-in-prison programs nationally. With partnerships in four states, BPI aims to support the development of similar programs in 10 states within the next five years.
Fellow GCS Alumnus, Jed Tucker ’89, as a Ph.D. student, started out as a BPI teacher and ended up making BPI the focus of his dissertation. He is now the program’s Director of Reentry.