By The Council of State Governments Justice Center Staff
In February, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon signed a package of Justice Reinvestment legislation into law. House Enrolled Act (HEA) 15, Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 19, HEA 53, and SEA 50 aim to reduce recidivism 25 percent by fiscal year 2024 and avert up to $18.1 million in costs that can be reinvested in increasing the availability and effectiveness of community-based behavioral health treatment for people on probation and parole.
Why is this legislation needed?
Wyoming’s prisons are at capacity, and 88 people from the state are already being housed at a prison in Mississippi. The prison population is projected to grow, in part because of revocations from supervision, many of which are driven by drug offenses. This growth will result in dramatic increases to the corrections budget. At the same time, recent declines in state revenue have hindered Wyoming’s ability to invest in strategies to lower recidivism and reduce crime. The Justice Reinvestment legislation aims to address these issues by improving community supervision practices and reducing recidivism.
What does this legislation mean for Wyoming residents?
- Judges will have additional tools to help determine probation term lengths at sentencing and during supervision (SEA 19). Courts will now be able to sentence people to unsupervised probation (i.e., a college student who lives out of state) and impose fines related to the offense, reduce terms of probation, and consider eight standardized criteria when determining the period of probation or modification of a term. These criteria include risk of reoffense, nature and seriousness of the underlying crime, and progress in addressing substance addiction, among other things. SEA 19 will enable consistency in judicial decision-making and promote the use of early discharge from probation.
- Crime victims will receive expanded coverage for mental health services (HEA 15). Under the new law, the period within which the Wyoming Crime Victim Compensation Program can allow eligible crime victims to be reimbursed for mental health services will increase from 24 to 36 months. Victims will thereby have a longer span of time to access mental health services and receive the help and benefits necessary to heal.
- People on probation and parole will be held accountable with swift, certain, and proportional sanctions (HEA 53). The Wyoming Department of Corrections will be required to revise its incentives and sanctions system to be swift, certain, and proportional. HEA 53 created an additional sanction option of up to 90 days, which can be served in jails, adult community corrections facilities, or prisons. During these longer sanctions, people will receive substance addiction treatment, as necessary, and cognitive behavioral programming to address criminal thinking. These, and other measures, seek to reduce the number of people who are revoked from supervision while still holding people on community supervision accountable and promoting positive behavior change.
- Probation resources will be targeted to people during the years of their probation term when they are most likely to fail on supervision (SEA 50). Probation terms will be capped at three years unless there is good cause to extend them further. Given that probation revocations are most likely to occur in the first three years of a person’s supervision term, this cap will ensure that probation resources are focused where and when they provide the most public safety benefit.
How was the legislation developed?
In March 2018, Wyoming leaders requested and received support from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and The Pew Charitable Trusts to employ a Justice Reinvestment approach to address the state’s criminal justice challenges. The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center provided intensive technical assistance. Under the direction of Wyoming’s bipartisan Joint Judiciary Committee (JJC), CSG Justice Center staff collected and analyzed data and developed a set of proposed policies, which are reflected in the legislation that passed.