BPI began in 1999, when then-student Max Kenner set out to engage Bard College in the effort to restore meaningful education to the prison system. At the start, Kenner organized other Bard students to volunteer as tutors in local prisons. In 2001, BPI outgrew its role as a student organization and became an academic program of the College. In 2005, BPI awarded the first Bard College degrees to incarcerated candidates. It now operates a network of 5 satellite campuses across New York, engaging students up through their release and after (BPI.edu, 2011).
The Initiative is one of a number of projects at Bard College that seek to strengthen the importance of the liberal arts in public life. The process of democratic participation, community involvement, individual empowerment, and quest towards educational liberation is substantial within programs like the Bard Prison Initiative that what to consequently equip these offenders with necessary skills and critical thinking processes to dedicate and maintain efforts of individual and collective capacities to contribute to such inevitable and important facets of public life.
Graduates of the BPI program have consistently succeeded after release from prison. Some have chosen to work in human service organizations, serving people with AIDS, or becoming professional counselors for residents in city-based alternatives to incarceration. Several alumni have worked their way up to management positions in an innovative, for-profit electronics recycling company. Other graduates have continued their educations, earning scholarships and working toward additional academic and professional degrees (BPI.edu, 2011).