A broad coalition of stakeholders met Monday, June 11, 2018 at a statewide forum on public safety to identify priorities and discuss how Wyoming will use a data-driven approach to analyze and address challenges in the state’s criminal justice system.
Wyoming’s prison population has increased significantly in recent years and is projected to continue to grow. Between 2006 and 2016, Wyoming’s prison population increased 12 percent, the ninth-largest increase in the United States during that period, and is projected to increase 3 percent between 2017 and 2021. In fiscal year 2017, 55 percent of prison admissions were due to revocations from probation or parole. In May 2017, Wyoming’s prisons were operating at 97 percent of capacity.
Gov. Matt Mead addressed the attendees via video and said he is pleased that the State of Wyoming is taking a hard look at we’re doing, what we’re doing well, and areas where we can make improvements. “You all are there to help in that process – to look at how we as a state respond to mental illness and substance abuse and violent crime to make sure we keep our streets safe and our families safe,” he told the group.
Participants at the Wyoming State Forum on Public Safety included county and state leaders, judges, criminal justice experts, policymakers, victim advocates, representatives from law enforcement, community advocates, and corrections and behavioral health practitioners. The forum officially launched the state’s participation in the federal Justice Reinvestment Initiative, an approach aimed at helping states contain corrections spending and reinvest in strategies that can reduce recidivism and increase public safety. The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization that provides practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities, will assist the state in this effort.
All three branches of Wyoming Government are behind this effort and recognize the utility and efficacy of using a data driven approach to become further informed as they continue to develop a corrections system focused on public safety, offender accountability and effective stewardship of state resources.
In March, Gov. Mead, Chief Justice E. James Burke, Senate President Eli Bebout, House Speaker Steve Harshman and Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Bob Lampert formally requested support from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and The Pew Charitable Trusts to use a Justice Reinvestment approach to address challenges in the state’s criminal justice system.
“The Justice Reinvestment approach will help paint an accurate, detailed picture of criminal justice trends across Wyoming,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Leland Christensen. “The analyses will help us identify the sources of our correctional population growth and make certain we’re using taxpayer money on policies that have been proven to work.”
The CSG Justice Center will provide intensive technical assistance throughout this process by collecting and analyzing data and assisting the state’s Joint Judiciary Committee in developing appropriate policy options to help increase public safety and contain the cost of corrections. CSG Justice Center staff will travel throughout the state to collect input from criminal justice system stakeholders.
“The success of Wyoming’s Justice Reinvestment approach depends on people who work in the criminal justice system sharing input, priorities and recommendations,” said House Judiciary Chairman Dan Kirkbride. “This is a collaborative effort to help us develop recommendations for next year’s legislative session and deliver results for the people of Wyoming.”
While Wyoming has historically had one of the lowest return-to-prison rates in the country, the rate has increased recently. Additionally the state’s drug arrest rate is the second-highest in the United States, and criminal justice system stakeholders indicate that a lack of access to timely, specialized community behavioral health treatment is driving the increase in people admitted to prison following a parole revocation.
“Our problems cannot be solved by building new jails and prisons,” said Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Bob Lampert. “We need to invest in research-based, data-driven strategies that provide pathways for people to become productive members of society. The public safety forum and the justice reinvestment work that will follow it will help us identify where we should devote our resources.”
The statewide forum builds on the national 50-State Summit on Public Safety, which was hosted by the CSG Justice Center in partnership with the Association of the State Correctional Administrators in November 2017. The Wyoming Department of Corrections hosted the state forum, and it was facilitated by representatives from the CSG Justice Center. Funding for the forum was provided by BJA.
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