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Utah Bill Would Extend Higher Education Opportunities To Incarcerated Youth

A photo of books and a cup of pens in front of a black board.
Under a new bill from the Utah Legislature, young people in the state’s criminal justice system could have access to higher education while incarcerated.

Right now, incarcerated students in Utah can get their GED. But a state lawmaker wants to give them access to higher education, too.

The legislation by Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, would create a program through Dixie State University that helps young people in long-term custody earn college credits.

At a hearing for the bill Tuesday, Brett Peterson, director of Utah’s Juvenile Justice Services, said the program would extend to around 30 young people in the state’s secure care facilities.

Peterson said many of the youth have experienced some sort of childhood trauma and are stuck in intergenerational poverty.

He also said education is an important tool for reducing recidivism.

“I think of a quote by [Utah Gov. Spencer Cox] where he said, ‘Education is the great equalizer,’” Peterson said. “This is one [program] that will add another arrow in that quiver for the youth that we serve, in providing an additional opportunity to change young lives and keep communities safe.”

Anna Thomas, with the advocacy organization Voices For Utah Children, praised the bill. She said a program like this shows the state isn’t giving up on young people in the criminal justice system.

“It gives some of these kids something to be proud of, something to be motivated by, and something that helps acknowledge to them that they’re more than just the mistakes that they’ve made,” Thomas said.

The bill passed the House Education Committee with unanimous support. It now goes to the full chamber for consideration.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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