NOV 25th and 26th 9/8c



COLLEGE BEHIND BARS, a four-part documentary film series, 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 (BPI).

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? 

The series airs on PBS on November 25th and 26th.


“College for prisoners, it has something to do with responsibility. How do you heal these communities that you perhaps destroyed, or the people that you hurt? College helps us become civic beings. It helps us understand that our community is a part of us and we are a part of it.”

COLLEGE BEHIND BARS 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 the executive producer. COLLEGE BEHIND BARS is a production of Skiff Mountain Films, in association with Florentine Films and WETA-TV.


“I got my GED on Riker’s Island 2005 when I was sixteen. And from that point until 2010, my mentality was very negatively focused. I thought I could go home and do crime better. Then, I got here and discovered, oh, they have college. I didn’t want to do it, but a friend forced me to apply to the program, which is the kindest, most loving thing anyone has ever done for me. Because who I am now is light years away from who I was then.  I have to go home and I have to succeed. That’s the only way I’ll be able to redeem myself, in my eyes, in my family’s eyes, in society’s eyes. That’s the only way.”

Funding for COLLEGE BEHIND BARS was provided by PBS, Ford Foundation / JustFilms, National Endowment for the Humanities, Meg & Tomas Bergstrand, The Lise Strickler & Mark Gallogly Charitable Fund, a fund at The New York Community Trust, Patty Quillin through the Meadow Fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Barbara & Richard Novick, Chicken & Egg Pictures, The William H. Donner Foundation, Hartley Film Foundation, Bertha Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, and Lisa Philp

And members of The Better Angels Society:

John & Catherine Debs, The Cousins Foundation, Inc., Abrams Foundation, Schwartz/Reisman Foundation, Ted Dintersmith & Elizabeth Hazard, McCloskey Family Charitable Trust, and Donna & Dick Strong