Cheryl Chan

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Andrea Simpson


The United States faces an epidemic of incarceration, draining resources, disrupting families, and hindering societal participation. Prison education emerges as a method to address this cycle, with vocational and academic programs being pivotal. While vocational programs are more common, their long-term efficacy remains uncertain. Academic education, exemplified by programs like the Bard Prison Initiative, provides incarcerated individuals with an opportunity to change. Typically, the success of these programs are measured using recidivism. However, recidivism has become too narrow of a measure to properly capture the nuances of an education. There has been an emerging body of scholarship studying desistance and how the process can be facilitated. This thesis investigates the value of implementing college programs in prisons, utilizing qualitative methods to explore personal development, skills acquisition, and social bonds. The findings suggest that vocational programs can provide certain degrees of change for individuals, but these changes are limited and less in-depth than the change a liberal arts education can foster. However, disparities in programming, particularly concerning gender, highlight systemic challenges. Moving forward, equitable access and deeper exploration of the link between a liberal arts education and desistance are imperative. This research underscores the necessity of holistic approaches to reform the incarceration system, prioritizing academic education as a pathway to break the cycle of imprisonment and offer incarcerated people a chance for redemption.