Compassion in the Criminal Justice System

PROVO, Utah – Oct 30, 2019 – As the deputy director for the Utah Department of Corrections, BYU Marriott MPA alum Chyleen Richey helps run a city of people who are forgotten by society.

Richey’s work focuses on helping convicted individuals re-enter their communities. She feels strongly that this group of people should not be overlooked. “I think what hurts our society the most is having an us versus them mentality,” she explains. “Most people think criminals are not connected to us in any way, but we are all human beings.”

With a vision to help those who are convicted of crimes by treating them with love, Richey is leading the way for others to do the same. “In order to be successful in this job, you have to have compassion for the people you work with,” she says. “We are not just warehousing people; we are trying to change lives.”

Richey’s journey to the Department of Corrections started during her time at the BYU Marriott School of Business. While working on her undergrad in English at BYU, Richey discovered the MPA program on campus. After talking with a friend in the program and meeting with a few MPA professors, Richey applied and was accepted to the program.

“I realized that getting an MPA meant I would be dedicating my life to making a difference,” she recalls. “The program is full of students with smart brains and big hearts.” In the program, Richey developed an interest in the criminal justice system.

After her first year of graduate school, she interned with the Utah Juvenile Administrative Office of the Courts. “I got to see a lot of things that most people don’t get to,” Richey says. “I fell in love with the idea of turning lives around and helping people overcome difficult circumstances.”

Working for the criminal justice system as an intern showed Richey the direction she wanted to go. After graduating from BYU Marriott in 1996, she took a job as a policy analyst for the Utah State Legislature, specifically working on the Juvenile Justice Task Force and the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee.

Richey went on to earn a PhD at the University of Utah in political science, with an emphasis in public management and American government, which combined to make a criminal justice policy emphasis.

Upon graduation in 2004 from her PhD program, Richey worked as a full-time professor for the BYU Marriott MPA program. In 2012, Richey became a member of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, which provides fair decisions regarding release, supervision, and clemency of convicted individuals.

Richey says her time on the board was powerful, especially when she listened to people’s stories at pardon and parole hearings. “At the end of pardon hearings, the board members would often turn to each other and say, ‘I don’t know if I could have made it out of the circumstance they were born into,’” she says. “To see people overcome such incredible obstacles is humbling and inspiring.”

Eventually, Richey became the chair of the board and in January 2019 she became the deputy director of the Utah Department of Corrections. In that capacity, she continues to be a leader in the criminal justice system as she shares the powerful message of hope and change.

“I view our role at the Department of Corrections as stewards,” she says. “We are helping people heal from their trauma and gain essential life skills they may have missed out on during critical developmental periods.”

As someone who has dedicated her life to public service, Richey recognizes the weight of her job. “Working in public service can be a challenging career,” she says. “But at the same time, public service is rewarding to the degree it is challenging. The hope is to help make a difference in the quality of people’s lives through improvement to the criminal justice system.”

BYU Marriott MPA alum Chyleen Richey. Photo courtesy of Chyleen Richey.
BYU Marriott MPA alum Chyleen Richey. Photo courtesy of Chyleen Richey.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Nikaela Smith