Salt Lake Community College offers inmates higher education classes to achieve their degrees and give them a new path to follow.
SLCC started the prison education program in the spring of 2017, after Marianne McKnight, the associate dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, advocated for significant funding from the Utah legislature. Through the prison education program, learning occurs inside the cell walls of the Utah State Prison in Draper.
Since the beginning of the prison education program, SLCC has registered over 600 student at the Draper prison, with 12 classes and 220 students per semester thus far.
David Bokovoy, director of SLCC’s prison education program, has a passion for social justice, particularly when it comes to the accessibility of higher education resources for incarcerated men and women.
“We’ve grown into one of the larger prison education programs in higher education in the country,” Bokovoy says. “We’re currently the only institution in the state that is offering accredited college-level courses.”
Bokovoy’s responsibility as director involves recruiting, hiring, and training new faculty as well as occasional bouts of teaching classes to students at the prison.
“At the beginning of the semester, we face the challenge of our students not having access to a computer. So, our team goes in at the beginning of each semester and sits down with each student for academic advising [and then] hand-registering them into the upcoming courses,” Bokovoy says.
The average student takes two classes due to the strict schedule the prison enforces on inmates. However, there are limitations on the number of classes students can take due to lack of funding as the program reaches its two-year mark.
“Our goal is to help each of our students acquire a certificate in general education,” Bokovoy says.
From there, students can choose to pursue their bachelor’s degree.
“We’re hopeful that some of the four-year institutions in the state will build upon what we’ve done,” Bokovoy says.
Bokovoy explains that many students want to earn an associate degree and then pursue specialized training in a trade skill. SLCC gives them the opportunity to achieve that once released.
“So, the question people have is, why not simply offer incarcerated men and women a trade skill, something that they can practically use to secure a job and make money upon release in mainstream society?” Bokovoy says. “But the answer to that is that we’re not simply trying to teach them a skill, we’re trying to change the way they see themselves. By offering general education courses like English, mathematics, the sciences and social sciences, we are able to help them see themselves in a different light.”
The national average statistic shows that about 50% of released inmates return to prison at some point. Alternatively, education can have a substantial impact.
“Studies have shown that incarcerated men and women who earn a degree in higher education while in prison, 67%-70% will not return,” Bokovoy says.
With the work that goes into serving incarcerated women and men, statistics prove that investing in higher education now it will save taxpayers more money in the long run.
“It’s really rewarding and incredible what Salt Lake Community College is accomplishing,” Bokovoy says. “The student body, especially, needs to be aware so that they can take pride with this program.”