About 10 years ago, college education funding for Utah prisoners was eliminated. This occurred despite the fact education has been proven to be the most effective way to reduce recidivism (the rate at which prisoners come back to prison).
Utah’s current recidivism rate is around 70 percent. The recidivism rate for prisoners who earn a bachelor’s degree during their incarceration is less than 15 percent. So why was funding cut?
I’m told the rationale is less about finances or the success of prisoners and more about equity and justice. People didn’t like the idea of college being such a huge expense for them when prisoners were getting their higher education for free.
I can appreciate why some feel it is unjust for prisoners to receive such a privilege; however, understanding the costs involved and recognizing the great impact on society, I believe that sort of thinking is shortsighted.
Although we (the prisoners) hope funding for college one day returns, we are not idly waiting for that day.
There’s an accredited high school (Central Utah Academy) here at the prison in Gunnison with civilian teachers and inmate course facilitators, a program that is a model for similar institutions. That’s only half of what goes on at the education department where I work.
There’s a program called U-Prep Academy that has been developed by inmates for inmates, with the integral help of the principal and another civilian, who is the U-Prep director. There is also an inmate who is the U-Prep assistant director (or assistant to the uPrep director, depending upon who you ask) and a host of volunteer inmate facilitators.
U-Prep Academy is a post-secondary grassroots program open to inmates who test above high school levels and who have a diploma. Over 200 students are enrolled in courses that fall into three categories: personal growth, career technology and collegiate introduction.
It’s successful because of the contribution and ownership of each inmate, facilitator and student alike.
Accreditation and degree opportunities are indeed the goal, but instead of hoping and waiting for funding, we the inmates are diligently working. We are working together to gain an education and develop skills necessary to successfully reintegrate into society.
At the same time, we are establishing the infrastructure that will be needed to bring a college on board if funding does arise.
I feel like U-Prep embodies the spirit of inmate reform: Give us an opportunity, and we will succeed.
Brian Wood, formerly of Layton, is an inmate at the Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. He pleaded guilty to nine felony charges for offenses from 2011 to 2014, including counts of burglary, drug possession and prescription fraud. He could spend up to 35 years in prison, depending on parole hearings.