Responses to ‘Bard Behind Bars’

BY Paul Solman  August 22, 2011 at 1:18 PM EDT

Paul Solman answers questions from NewsHour viewers and web users on business and economic on his Making Sen$e page. Here are Monday’s queries.

Our recent stories on Bard Behind Bars, the prison BA program of Bard College in mid-state New York, received quite a bit of mail, almost all of it positive. A sample of plaudits follow, as an incentive to enthusiastic viewers who like to see their name in print. (The writer of the critical email asked to remain anonymous.)

Name: Sharon Visser

Comment: Your story about the Bard Grads is hugely inspiring. Please tell more stories of success.

Paul Solman: Message heard.

Name: Susan Ahl

Comment: Not a question, just a commendation for your moving, powerful story about the convicts learning and remaking their lives. Bravo, Mr. Solman. I am a near lifetime member of PBS. Now, I need to put PBS in my will. (I am retired, but a volunteer elementary school tutor.)

Paul Solman: Thanks, Ms. Ahl: For the email, the volunteering, and the bequest.

Paul Solman: One recent emailer, who prefers to remain anonymous, found our story disturbing. Not that we made any factual errors or intentionally skewed the story, but that the message was wrong. The emailer suggested that we might be suggesting murder was a path towards upward mobility, and that recent high school grads facing enormous college debt or unemployed, law-abiding individuals might conclude that a life of crime was a better ticket to the top.

To be clear, that was not our intent. But is what’s wrong that there is a Bard Behind Bars program, or that there isn’t one for so many on the outside? Just asking.

Name: Mary V. Thompson

Comment: Your two college- for-convicts programs were tops. I hope they start the U.S. thinking about educating prisoners. Recidivism is not inevitable. One out of 100 Americans in prison is an appalling statistic. There is a better way, which in the long run is less costly. Here’s hoping that your programs are the beginning of a new movement.

Paul Solman: Norway is a troubling paragon of crime control just at the moment, given the recent massacre there, but some years ago, Nobel Laureate George Akerlof of UCal Berkeley urged us to do a story on that country’s criminal justice system, which is all about rehabilitation. Hoping to get there some day. I would also recommend “When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment” by UCLA law professor Mark Kleiman.

Name: Khalid Kamau

Comment: First, THANK YOU so much for all you do. Your 2-Part Feature on Bard College’s Prison Program was the most uplifting story I’ve heard ALL YEAR!!!

Paul Solman: It was pretty uplifting for us too.

Name: David

Comment: Hi Paul, I’ve enjoyed your work over the years and just wanted to say “great job” on the story about Anthony and WeRecycle…thanks!

Name: Sanford Rich

Comment: Paul, Your story on the Bard Prison Initiative (first half) was inspiring and eye opening. Is Bard College compensated for this?

Paul Solman: The money is raised privately, Sandy. It pays for Bard professors and books.

This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown– NewsHour’s blog of news and insight. Follow Paul on Twitter.