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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Utah’s Incarcerated Youth Higher Education Program Is Set To Start This Summer

A photo of a graduation hat with degree paper on a stack of books.
There are around 100 long-term incarcerated youth in Utah, and starting in May some of them will be able to take college-level classes.

Some incarcerated youth in Utah will soon be able to take college classes. A bill recently signed by the governor sets up the program to run out of Dixie State University.

It is for long-term incarcerated youth, which includes around 100 people across the state. Through this, they’ll be able to participate in live classes that count as college credit.

Brett Peterson is the director of Juvenile Justice Services for Utah. He said something like this doesn’t exist in the state right now.

“This program specifically will enable us to do virtual instruction with a real professor from a real university, getting this type of coursework. So it's huge,” Peterson said.

He said he thinks this education opportunity will help “chip away” at cycles of trauma and poverty that many of the youth he works with are experiencing.

Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, sponsored the bill to create this option for incarcerated youth. He said it will cost $300,000 a year to run. On the other hand, he said it costs about $200,000 a year to keep one juvenile in custody.

“I think if we can spend a little more time working on educational pursuits, I think it will help to reduce recidivism because there will be something more for [incarcerated individuals] to move into and move forward with once they're released,” Snow said.

He said he’s also thinking about how to expand this in the future.

“I'm hopeful that this is the start not just for our youth populations, but perhaps for the adult incarcerated populations as well,” he said.

Kevin Simmons is the director of concurrent enrollment at DSU and is helping to create the program. He said he hopes incarcerated youth involved with it will eventually end up at the university to complete their coursework.

He’s also hopeful it can expand in the future — but for now he’s working out the logistics of it all.

“This is not something that's already going on, it would have been nice to just copy someone else's success,” Simmons said. “But it's rewarding to be able to build this and build it well for some people that quite often are kind of forgotten about.”

The program is expected to be up and running with its first course in May. Simmons said they’ll start with “a cohort” of around 25 students and grow from there.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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