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Utah Prison Education Project and Research Collaborative

The mission of the Utah Prison Education Project (UPEP) is a commitment to social transformation, advancing educational equity through on-site higher education, empirical research, and advocacy.

History: In 2016-2017, the University of Utah Honors College sponsored a yearlong Praxis Lab course titled, Education, Incarceration, and Justice. The undergraduate course was designed to examine university affiliated college-in-prison programs throughout the country, prison-university partnerships, and best practices in the field. We studied mission statements and philosophies, funding structures, organizational charts, admissions procedures, memoranda of understandings between prisons and universities, and much more. We consulted with the UDC and various administrative leaders at the University of Utah. We attended the 6th Annual Higher Education in Prison Conference in Nashville, TN and met with directors of some of the most well respected college-in-prison programs throughout the country. The final project of the Praxis Lab was the development and launch of the UPEP in spring 2017. Dr. Castro and the students in the Praxis Lab are Co-Founders of UPEP. We are indebted to the Honors College at the University of Utah for its early and ongoing support.

UPEP has three focus areas, higher education, research, and advocacy. 

Higher Education:Working closely with Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), UPEP aims to provide a four-year degree pathway inside Draper and Timpanogos prisons, similar to its mission in non-incarcerated settings. Establishing an accredited degree-granting pathway inside Utah State prisons is a strategic goal of our Project. Our aim is to work with prison partners to establish the following pathway for students: South Park Academy (GED or high school diploma), Salt Lake Community College (general education, certificates, associates degree), and UPEP (upper division and undergraduate programs). 

Research: The Research Collaborative on Higher Education examines postsecondary eduction in prisons throughout the U.S. You can see some of their research at:

Advocacy: UPEP models itself in accordance with best practices laid out by the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison. The Alliance is a national organization dedicated to supporting the expansion of quality higher education in prison, empowering students in prison and after release, and shaping public discussion about education and incarceration.

Each year UPEP attends the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison. The conference provides its stakeholders, including educators and students, activists, policy experts, higher education administrators, employees of the Department of Corrections (DOC), the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and more, a collaborative venue and a rare once-in-a-year opportunity to share space and engage in constructive dialogue about the higher education in prison landscape.

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Last Updated: 12/12/23