A new bill could partner Utah’s education and justice systems by allowing qualifying misdemeanor or third degree felony offenders to attend a technical college and earn a certificate instead of being incarcerated.
HB106 aims to help past offenders get on their feet and stay out of prison, all while reducing costs of incarceration and probation. The bill, which passed committee, is currently on hold in the Utah House.
Rep. Val Potter, R-North Logan, the bill’s sponsor, said this is an opportunity to get those who have struggled in the past on a career path.
“Those who commit crimes are often down on their luck,” Potter said. “This gives them an opportunity to put them in a position where they realize they can improve their lives.”
Participants would be required to earn a GED before being accepted into the program. Once in the program, participants would be required to earn a B grade average and have 90 percent attendance to receive a certificate.
Offenders would be responsible to pay the program’s tuition.
The legislation is modeled after a program piloted by Cache County last year. Cache County’s program involved 13 participants.
Of the 13 participants in the original program, three have finished a career program and are working. Eight are successfully participating in the program, and two are beginning the process.
None of the participants in Cache County’s program have faced additional charges.
The bill would aim to reduce costs of incarceration and probation. Cache County’s program saved the state a total of $50,584, which would have been spent on incarceration and probation.
The total savings were calculated according to the cost of incarceration at $86.16 per day, and cost of probation supervision at $8.30 per day.
Legislators hope the bill would benefit the economy by cutting recidivism costs and adding to Utah’s workforce.
“One of the most critical things that we look for in somebody who’s trying to integrate back into society successfully is employability,” said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns.
The House Education Standing Committee reviewed the bill for consideration Jan. 24.
Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, brought up the issue of equal access to education during the committee meeting.
Coleman raised the argument that it could be “counterintuitive” to make educational opportunities accessible to individuals in the justice system when other demographics are unable to receive equal opportunities.
The bill passed committee 10-0. Legislators plan to further define the bill’s details and funding provisions.