ST. GEORGE — A bill that aims to make higher education accessible to incarcerated youth, sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, passed Tuesday through the Senate without a single nay vote.
“Education is the antidote to recidivism,” Snow told St. George in February. “We’ve got to invest in education outreach. This program will provide the same opportunities for concurrent enrollment to incarcerated youth as it does to their peers who are not incarcerated. This way, they can prepare for their release and get jobs for themselves.”
Under the bill, Higher Education for Incarcerated Youth, designated HB 279 in Utah’s 2021 Legislature, incarcerated young people may choose to pursue a variety of degrees or technical certificates while also pursuing their high school diplomas. Brett M. Peterson, director of the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services, said the program is part of a more holistic approach that may benefit participants well into the future.
“Incarcerated youth are almost always part of two groups,” Peterson said. “Those who are trapped in the cycle of intergenerational poverty, and those who’ve suffered some kind of trauma.”
“This bill is meant to really strike at the heart of intergenerational poverty,” he continued. “I read a study that said that youth whose parents participated in higher education are more likely to participate in higher education themselves.”
For every dollar we invest into programs like this one, Peterson said, the state saves $5 on back-end services. That represents huge savings as, during the presentation, Snow’s team said that it currently costs $200,000 per year to keep a young person in secure care.
“We want to reinvest that money into services for families and children,” Snow said.
Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-Salt Lake City, was enthusiastic about the bill, and said as much to the committee.
“I’m so excited to see this bill,” Weight said. “Some young people are missing so many credits, they just give up (and) drop out. When they drop out, they’re much more likely to get involved in crime. But, with programs like this, they find purpose in pursuing their education.”
A program like this one, she said, adds value to life.
Snow agreed, saying that Utah needs to do more to ensure that formerly incarcerated youth have the skills they need to earn a living and contribute to their communities.
“The reason I’m passionate about juvenile justice reform,” Snow said, “is that I’m trying to get to the headwater. When we help these young people now, we’re doing everybody a favor in the future.”
The bill will now go to the governor’s desk for his signature.
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