Prison inmates receiving education lowering likelihood of return

Local (Utah/State News)

DRAPER, Utah (ABC4 News) – Education officials in Utah say roughly 70 percent of those in prison will at some point return. However, that rate is dropping with men and women who are taking higher education courses behind bars.

It’s an educational opportunity and a chance to earn an associate degree.

Through the Salt Lake Community College Prison Education Program, these female inmates are working toward individual change and a second chance at life when they return to society. 

Sawsan Whitelaw has been in the program since it began in 2017. She’s graduating soon and said the program has showed her what she can achieve.

“I have just learned so much and how much effort I’ve put into it just to get these good grades,” Whitelaw said. “Just right now I got some things back and I’m amazed at what I do.”

Even when it’s hard.

“There were some struggles. I’m telling you, that math class was the hardest class in two years I’ve taken, and I was so scared that I wasn’t gonna pass and how much energy I put forth in getting that grade, or getting any grade, or doing positive,” Whitelaw said.

And for Marina Navarro, it’s about personal growth and remembering who she is.

“Sometimes this place can get to you. And I feel like he reminded me of a part of myself and at the same time, I feel like this program has helped me grow,” Navarro said.

The prison education program is for men and women and director David Bokovoy said nearly 70 percent of inmates who earn a degree in higher education will not return. 

Making a difference for the public.

“It’s obviously a major financial drain upon the taxpayers. Not to mention the problems that it causes society as a whole,” Bokovoy said.

He says up to 90 percent of inmates at the Draper facility will at some point return to mainstream society. 

“They become our neighbors, our grocers, and we work with them in, and interact with them on a daily basis, and so we need to provide them with opportunities to change,” Bokovoy said.

While serving time in the prison may feel like a dead-end for some, Bokovoy said he believes the education program is helping inmates set their lives in a positive direction. The first set of students are set to graduate this spring.

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