University of Utah Prison Education Project


The University of Utah Prison Education Project (UPEP) is a multidisciplinary collaborative effort providing on-site college curriculum and programming to students incarcerated in Draper and Timpanogos prisons. Through a commitment to educational equity and justice, UPEP aims to build a culture of sustained academic inquiry inside Utah prisons and to create positive impacts on students, volunteers, families, communities, the University of Utah, and the broader society. The mission of UPEP is to provide quality, sustained, and meaningful higher educational opportunities to individuals incarcerated in Utah state prisons. Through embodying the mission of the University of Utah, the project aims to assist incarcerated students and non-incarcerated volunteers to live lives of impact, both in prison and post-incarceration, by fostering leadership, civic engagement, and critical inquiry. UPEP seeks to positively contribute to our state and the broader society through reducing recidivism and improving the welfare of post-incarcerated individuals, families, and communities throughout the state of Utah.

Student Role

This SPUR includes two large responsibilities for UPEP: Research and Administrative. The student will be working to create formalized documents integral to UPEP, including a Memo of Understanding between University of Utah and Utah Department of Corrections (UDOC), faculty and student handbooks, and processes related to hiring. Finally, the student will be assisting in the creation of internal processes related to data collection and tracking for incarcerated students. The student will create these documents by benchmarking with reputable college-in-prison programs across the US and working directly with the me, the Project Director. The student will also be assisting with summer admissions at the prison. This will involve updating the admission application and benchmarking it with reputable college-in-prison programs as well as working closely with the Project Director to request space and clearances through UDOC. The student will design all correspondence handouts for the prison; gather necessary information and attend all related recruitment sessions at the prison. It is expected that the student have emerging familiarity with higher education in prison, how prisons operate, and why college-in-prison programs are important. The student will be working both directly and indirectly with currently and formerly incarcerated people and communities; therefore, they must not hold any ill feelings or biases towards people with incarceration histories. For students wanting to enter the prison, they will need to meet additional criteria as outlined by UDOC. Finally, all applicants should have working knowledge of Excel; advanced knowledge is preferred.


Upon successful completion of this SPUR, the student will be able to:

  • Articulate the purposes of higher education in prison during an era of mass incarceration.
  • Understand the importance and know how to conduct evidence-based benchmarking research in higher education.
  • Understand the salience of internal program documentation and be able to draw from a wide variety of best practices to create documents and processes integral to UPEP's success.
  • Understand how to design an equity-oriented admissions process within the unique context of a prison-university partnership.
  • Gain experience working in a prison and in collaboration with Corrections.
  • Understand the importance of a Memo-of-Understanding between institutions and how Legal Counsel operates within universities.
  • Increased awareness of the landscape of higher education in prison within the US.
  • Be able to edit program materials for appropriateness within the correctional environment.
  • Understand how to work across lines of difference toward the common goal of educational equity.
  • Increased experience in public speaking and giving presentations.

Erin Castro
Assistant Professor

Educational Leadership & Policy
College of Education
Division of Gender Studies

As PI and Director of UPEP, my mentoring philosophy is hands-on. This student can expect to work closely with me and often meet face-to-face to touch base and work through challenges, as well as attend many meetings together. I provide consistent and structured feedback on writing and data cataloguing as well as advice regarding day-to-day hurdles. I am seeking a motivated and independent student who understands how the aforementioned specific outputs fit within the overall aims of UPEP. We are an emerging program and all who work for the project must be passionate about ushering it forward. Toward this end, I expect a student to take risks and challenge themselves in exploring both research and administration.