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Utah: Prisoners' Education Should Be Cheaper, Take Less Time, Report Says

Secondary education classes for state prisoners in Utah are wasting tax dollars and, more importantly, the time that prisoners are serving, according to an August 2012 legislative report by the state's auditor general,

Utah lawmakers wanted to know how efficient and effective are high-school education programs —to help offenders earn a diploma or G.E.D., or to learn English as a second language—offered in the state's jails and prisons,

What they were told by Auditor General John Schaff is that Utah's State Office of Education (USOE)—using a S5.4-million budget in 2011 to educate 5,268 prisoners at 23 jails and both state prisons—spends more money to (each prisoners (S512 per enrolled) than it does adult-education students on the outside (S346 per enrollee). One reason, according to the report, is that some prisoners take hundreds of "contact" hours of classes without ever graduating. while graduates continue in classes only to sit around and do nothing, swallowing up resources that could be helping other prisoners,

"Programs should not be designed to take longer, simply because (a prisoner) has more time available," the report said,

Utah's jails, according to the report. are more efficient at achieving outcomes than are state prisons. Jail programs averaged 26 hours per student to advance a level or reach graduation, while prison programs averaged 55 hours per student,

Prison administrators argued that Utah Department of Corrections (UDOC) prisoners "are at a lower functioning level than (prisoners) in jail programs when they enter the program, and therefore require more educational services,-- UDOC' prisoners also have more time than county jail prisoners to pursue a diploma rather than a G.E,D. And, as prison officials are wont to argue in convenient situations, prisoner education is also about safety and security, UDOC administrators said, helping to "manage the incarcerated population by keeping (prisoners) engaged and diverting problem behavior,"

The auditor general's report, however, refuted most of those claims, finding for instance that. in 2011, 85% of prisoners in both jails and state prisons "entered with an educational functioning level below a ninth-grade level,"

The report recommended that USOE establishes guidelines for a reasonable number of "contact" hours to achieve certain outcomes and to limit classroom time used by graduates. The auditor general also recommended that USOE and UDOC evaluate employment benefits that result from providing high-school education to prisoners, and to give educational priority to prisoners scheduled to leave prison within five years.

Sources: Utah Auditor General, "A Performance Audit of Inmate High School Education," No. 2012-11. August 2012; The Salt Lake Tribune

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