“Educated people are less likely to commit crimes,” said Jonathan Wride, an employee at the Ogden County Jail who works in the GED program. Wride commented on the barriers in between incarcerated individuals and education: “The inmates I help are not allowed to have staples, so I have to take every single staple out of the packets and books. They are allowed to have a pencil, which we give them, but they can’t have the eraser or metal on top, so I have to pull it off and put a different eraser on.”
Wride assists in one of five programs offered by the state of Utah to help convicts reform and reduce the recidivism rate by ensuring they don’t return to incarceration after their release.
Although these types of programs are offered to inmates, many are denied the opportunity due to lack of availability.
In an effort to analyze the rates of those who repetitively serve time within the criminal justice system, it should be noted that a clear and concise definition of recidivism is needed to set as a standard.
According to the National Institute of Justice, recidivism is a fundamental concept to criminal justice that refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime.
The United States Sentencing Commission published research on each state’s report of those who had been through the criminal justice system multiple times.
They found that in the United States around 49 percent of those who have been released from jails and prisons will be re-arrested, re-convicted or otherwise return to incarceration within three years of their release. The Pew Research Center reported in 2011 that the recidivism rate of inmates in Utah is somewhere around 43 percent.
Utah’s rate of recidivism is not much different than the national average. The Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel released a presentation they assembled to show the Utah State Legislature the comparisons of Utah’s criminal justice system with that of the nation.
According to one of their reports, “In 2011, one in 31 adults in the U.S. was incarcerated or being supervised,” and that “the national recidivism rate average is around 40 percent.” This data, along with the Pew Research Center’s report, demonstrates that Utah’s recidivism rate remains at a steady level.
Utah has a lower average rate of incarceration per 100,000 people than that of the national average. However, the rate of recidivism is still close to the national rate.
This begs the question: What efforts are being made to reform convicts from hardened criminals to functional members of society?
The Department of Corrections for the State of Utah offers several different programs classes in vocational training, education, behavior modification, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and sex offender therapy to inmates to help them reform post-release.
Wride sees these programs as an excellent investment that is in dire need of help.
“You have to be able to fill these programs with teachers and materials,” Wride said. “If the state of Utah’s education is cut, my whole program will not be able to continue doing adult education.”
In order to see how successful these classes are, an examination can be made of what each class does and what it offers to inmates.
Within the vocational training, inmates have the opportunity to work with several different applied technology colleges between Kaysville and St. George to seek training for certain jobs.
At these schools, those working in the programs can have experiences learning about automotive work, culinary arts, machine tool technology and office technology systems, just to name a few.
The state also provides several programs to those who did not graduate from high school or are looking to further their education. Utah reported that in the year of 2011, approximately 480 inmates took advantage of this program to get their high school education.
While the classes aim to help teach inmates about different skills to be used post-incarceration, some of the other available programs are overrun with inmates who wish to participate but are denied entry due to high demand.
The substance abuse treatments offered to inmates are considered successful due to the lowered number of relapses from their graduates. However, this is a program in which many convicts would like to participate but are not given the opportunity.
At the Utah State Prison, around 832 convicts per year are given the chance to enter these types of classes to help battle their struggles with abuse and addiction. Over 3,500 inmates are currently waiting for any type of treatment and therapy for substance abuse.
In 2011, the Utah Department of Corrections reported that there were 250 slots available to convicted sex offenders to undergo treatment to help reduce their possibility of recidivism after their incarceration.
In that same year, a reported 1,923 incarcerated offenders who had one or more active cases that would require sex offender treatment attempted to claim one of the slots available for sex offender treatment. The treatment typically lasts 18 months and varies according to the convicts’ needs.
The rates of inmates being able to enter these programs is not an optimistic number. Some of these inmates will never have the opportunity to successfully complete these reform programs.
If they are expected to no longer commit crimes after incarceration, why are many of them not given the opportunity?
“Funding.” Wride said. “We could be mandatory funded like regular high schools. If we could receive more funding, we could hire more teachers to open more programs.”
Until that funding comes, hundreds of inmates who wish to reform will be denied the opportunity.