The Great Equalizer

June 7, 2021

As the Chair of the Senate Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Confirmation Committee, Sen. Derrin Owens works to improve the state’s corrections and recidivism rate. But for Sen. Owens, helping incarcerated individuals isn’t just a committee assignment, it’s personal. 

“When I was in high school, I had a football coach who saw more in me than I saw in myself,” Owens explains. “In addition to being my football coach, Coach Joseph Girardi was my high school counselor. He tragically died after my junior year of high school, but throughout my life I have followed in his footsteps.”

As a high school counselor and football, wrestling and track coach, Owens had the opportunity to help students the way Coach Girardi did for him. “As a counselor, I had a soft spot for the challenging youth,” said Owens. “I loved being in the trenches with them. Though it was hard work, I learned you must never give up on any kid.” 

Owens’ career in education and experience working with challenging youth shaped his perspective and understanding of individuals in correctional facilities. Owens explains that education is the great equalizer. “If individuals leave the system without support or any skills, they will probably end up back in the prison system. If we can help incarcerated individuals exit the system with some type of technical certification, skill or associate degree, we give them a chance.”

During the 2021 General Session, Owens worked on two bills to help incarcerated individuals receive the resources needed to succeed after release. S.B. 139 Utah State Correctional Facility Operational Amendments, sponsored by Owens, provides inmates with resources to create action plans, helping individuals live healthy, productive lives when they reenter society. Additionally, Owens was the Senate sponsor for H.B. 279 Higher Education for Incarcerated Youth. This bill pilots a program that allows concurrent enrollment to incarcerated youth. “Right now, the first group is going through the program and is seeing great success,” says Owens.  

Though Owens recognizes some individuals in the prison system committed awful crimes, he believes hope can help change their lives and reduce recidivism. “We call it the Department of Corrections, not a warehouse,” he says. “If we can offer resources, education and hope, we are going to start to see these individuals change their lives and advance.”

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