CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

New department prepares inmates for life after prison

May 24, 2024, 4:00 PM | Updated: 10:05 pm

Gardens grown at the Utah State Correctional Facility...

The Department of Corrections' garden at the Utah State Correction Facility in Salt Lake City on May 23, 2024. The garden is used by its culinary arts and green thumb programs. (Photo by Heather Peterson)

(Photo by Heather Peterson)

SALT LAKE CITY — There is now a department at Utah’s state prisons that focuses on helping inmates get ready for life after prison.

About six months ago, legislation went into effect that allowed the Department of Corrections to get an official re-entry and rehabilitation program. Division Chief of that department, Dan Chesnut, said they focus on things that cause recidivism.

“So we know that employment, we know that housing, we know that substance use, we know that associations with people that are involved in criminal activity, all of those kind of big things are things that are likely to push somebody back to prison,” Chesnut stated.

Chesnut said his division oversees programs that address “risk factors,” with substance abuse or anger management classes. Additionally, they also provide “protective factors,” like education and job skills training.

“The more of those protective factors we can put in place, it makes it more likely we’ll find that right recipe for that person to help keep them [in the] community and not have them return to prison,” Chesnut said.

Training for life after prison

According to Chesnut, the programs train inmates in culinary arts, horticulture, furniture building, welding, and more. On top of that, many of the products they work on are used by agencies across the state.

“The more that we can provide opportunities that people can engage socially in a pro-social way, the more that we can give them opportunities to work. So, they are not just feeling productive, but they’re actually being productive,” Chesnut said. “It creates a situation where they’re less likely to act out.”

Chesnut hopes the reentry and rehabilitation program will continue to expand so they can provide opportunities for more inmates and hire more treatment staff. They are also putting a focus on case management, to ensure their approaches are holistic.

“We are trying to help the whole person,” Chesnut said. “Creating bridges from inside the institution to outside the institution, so that when they do reenter the community, there are resources there ready to receive them and that they can use those resources effectively.”

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New department prepares inmates for life after prison