In 2019, more than half of all prison admissions in Wyoming were due to probation and parole revocations, highlighting the need to address ineffective and costly responses to supervision violations. To tackle this issue, the Wyoming legislature appropriated over $3 million to the Department of Corrections (WDOC) between 2019 and 2020 to improve community supervision practices through changes to the state’s incentives and sanctions system.
House Enrolled Act (HEA) 53 (2019), which mandates these changes, is one of five pieces of legislation enacted in 2019 and 2020 as part of Wyoming’s participation in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). JRI is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Wyoming leaders partnered with The Council of State Governments Justice Center to use a data-driven approach to address issues in the state’s criminal justice system.
Incentives and Sanctions Changes
After JRI legislation was enacted, WDOC quickly began implementing the changes to its incentives and sanctions system, while at the same time implementing the other JRI acts and continuing to assess and develop policies to improve behavioral health treatment. To improve adherence to evidence-based supervision practices, WDOC did the following:
- Revised its sanction and incentive system, called Positive Rewards Incentives Sanction Matrix (PRISM). This included adding interventions to follow sanctions to improve long-term behavioral change. WDOC piloted the revised PRISM in three locations throughout the state and made data system modifications to enable streamlined data entry and analysis. WDOC has now fully implemented PRISM statewide to ensure uniformity in sanctions and incentives across Wyoming.
- Contracted with jails, work release centers, and the Casper Re-Entry Center-Therapeutic Community Treatment Program across the state to provide local substance use or cognitive behavioral programming to people who receive a 90-day sanction. This enables people who violate the conditions of their supervision to receive rehabilitative services paired with their custodial sanction.
- Revised the presentence investigation reports provided to courts to include more detailed risk and need assessment information. This assists judges and community supervision staff with setting conditions of supervision that are tailored to the risk and needs of each person, helping them succeed on supervision.
- Trained all supervision agents on core corrections practices, which are used to help guide people on community supervision to engage in long-term, prosocial behavior. These evidence-based practices reinforce the changes to the PRISM matrix.
WDOC’s work was hampered in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, WDOC staff worked to continue implementation. Now that the new sanctions and incentives system is in place, officials say they are seeing positive results.
“Access to resources, especially treatment for substance use disorders or behavioral health needs, can be challenging for our clients,” said Kalli Shannon, Field Services District 8 Manager in Sheridan, Wyoming. “With the new PRISM system, staff now have more options to help our clients get access to treatment if they need it instead of automatically revoking their probation or parole because they are struggling with substance use. Not only has this been beneficial for our clients, but it also increases safety in the community.”
The revised PRISM structure has improved the use of incentives and sanctions across the state. On average, corrections officials have used three rewards for every one sanction, a significant improvement more in line with the ratio recommended by effective behavior change research. By standardizing guidelines and training on the use of incentives and sanctions, officials are better equipped to address behavior in ways that will improve short-term compliance and lead to long-term behavior change. Ultimately, this will slow the revolving door that is commonly seen between community corrections and prison. Anecdotally, corrections officials have reported that within the first year of introducing the new PRISM, they have seen a correlation between the use of incentives and greater compliance among people on supervision.
“PRISM has allowed us to focus more on positive behavior change through sanctions and incentives instead of punishing people who need help,” said Brandi Clifton, Adult Probation and Parole Officer for the Wyoming Department of Corrections. “I recently worked with a client who voluntarily checked in to a local detox program, but once the detox was complete, his name went to the bottom of the list for residential treatment. Because of the new PRISM structure, we were able to send him to a 90-day residential program where he was able to access the support he needed instead of sending him home without help. Since then, his attitude and behavior have completely changed, and he will be much better set up for success going forward.”
Behavioral Health Improvements
The state enacted additional legislation in 2020—HEA 62—to strengthen behavioral health treatment and programming for people in the criminal justice system. Among other measures, this act requires the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) and WDOC to collaborate on developing standardized, evidence-based practices and guidelines for behavioral health programming serving people in the criminal justice system. It also requires behavioral health treatment providers and WDOC to share results for assessments of substance addiction, mental health, and co-occurring disorders with one another to support treatment access and continuity and sets up quality assurance mechanisms to monitor behavioral health assessments statewide.
Since HEA 62 passed, WDOC has partnered with WDH to ensure that when people are released from prison residential treatment programs to supervision, they can immediately begin treatment with contracted mental health and substance use health providers. WDOC also formalized the hand-off process between community supervision and community behavioral health providers to streamline referral and information sharing for people on probation to reduce unnecessary duplicative assessments and reduce wait times to start behavioral health treatment with community providers. To support this, BJA’s JRI implementation grant funded WDOC to set up standardized, web-based substance use assessments for use by all WDOC and WDH contracted behavioral health providers, adding consistency and promoting the sharing of assessment results to save money and improve access to services.
Wyoming continued to accomplish implementation milestones even as the criminal justice system in the state was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the pandemic will make it difficult to measure the true impact of JRI policies, WDOC’s implementation plan for the supervision changes positions the state to sustain initial progress.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2015-ZB-BX-K001 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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