SALT LAKE CITY -- State education officials are taking steps to close the gap in the costs for inmate education between county jails and state prisons.
Lawmakers heard details of the plan on Wednesday during a public education appropriations subcommittee meeting. If successful, the plan will boost the education spending per inmate in county facilities, while lowering the cost per inmate in prison.
The plan is a response to a 2012 audit that found the cost per student in county jails from all sources was $653 compared to $1,330 per pupil in the state prison system. The audit recommended jails' adult education supplemental funding be replaced by education contracts funding. That change was partially enacted on July 1 of this year, according to Dr. Brenda Hales, deputy superintendent for Utah schools.
A second component of the change is the education funding contracts will be available to school districts servicing county jails and will be commensurate with the overall percentage of state offenders housed in county jails. Hales said that amount, assuming level funding, will be $428,858. Twenty jails will be eligible for the funds.
A local breakdown released to the committee shows the Davis and Weber county jails would receive $71,182 to funding between the two facilities and the Box Elder Jail would receive $18,150.
Hales said the current disparity between education program costs for jails and the prison system is mostly because the prison system offers more educational opportunities. She said the prison is the state's largest high school and she said education continues to offer hope for those behind bars.
"Education is the saving grace in these people's lives," Hales said.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, expressed concern about people being able to get marketable skills that translate into jobs once out. He noted many felons get college degrees, even some have earned law degrees, but they'll never be able to practice because of their background.
Hillyard also wondered why more inmates aren't taking advantage of technical skills offered by state ATC programs behind bars.