SHERIDAN — A criminal justice reform bill skimmed through the Wyoming House of Representatives with a 31-26 vote and it looks to hold the same caliber of fight in the Senate, Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, predicts.

“Public safety is so critical that it’s more important that we get it done right rather than we get it done quickly,” Kinskey said.

The bill, House Bill 94, helps address the increasingly high incarceration rates by laying out probation and parole guidance based on situations such as sentencing in cases of return upon violation, conditional releases or adult community correction sanction hearing procedures.

The final preparation of the bill sits laden with red ink, indicating the six adopted substitutions to the Joint Judiciary Committee’s original draft.

“The judiciary did important work on this bill,” Kinskey said, mentioning the interim work the committee completed on the legislation.

Legislators gained traction on the overall issue of criminal justice reform in last year’s session, passing laws to expand eligibility for deferred prosecution and automatically restoring voting rights to nonviolent felony offenders who had completed their sentences. The Legislature this year, though, has taken on a bigger animal — incarceration versus probation and parole.

During the final reading of the bill in the House, Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, spoke in favor of the bill. He has six years of experience serving on the drug court team in his community.

“We need to find alternatives to putting people behind bars, and I think this bill is a step in the right direction,” Pelkey said. 

Kinskey, who serves on the Joint Judiciary Committee, said he knows the hard work put in by the committee, but still sees room for growth before the bill is finalized.

“Generally I think it’s a pretty good bill, but here are my reservations,” Kinskey said. “One, I don’t think we’ve gotten as much engagement and input from prosecutors and county attorneys as is desirable and in turn I’ve heard from county attorneys and prosecutors, their concerns that a lot of the programs that need to be in place at the local level and within the department of probation and parole are not there. 

“If those are not there, if those are not in place, the entire program contemplated by the bill is just not going to work,” Kinskey added.

The Department of Corrections currently sees large numbers in both incarceration and probation and parole. DOC continues to examine the balance between the two options.

“There is that balance that we have to find. People going into prison and bed space for our inmates becomes an issue at our facilities,” Wyoming Department of Corrections spokesman Mark Horan told The Sheridan Press. “I know that the Legislature is currently looking at that and looking at ways to do some sentencing reform so that we have fewer inmates, but then that will affect the number of people we have on supervision. Caseloads are going to go higher.”

The changes presented by the bill garnered a more positive response during Wednesday’s general session, with mention of reduced costs if fewer individuals were incarcerated. The bill’s fiscal note contains appropriations totaling $2,834,369 from the general fund to the Department of Corrections, including authorizing two full-time positions to be included in the DOC’s 2019-20 standard biennial budget request, the fiscal note reads.

“I will be curious to see, when we get it from the House, what kind of appropriation is attached in order to support principally a lot of substance abuse and drug and alcohol substance abuse programs that need to be in place,” Kinskey said. “Stakeholder engagement, the diversion programs that need to be put in place, the funding for those programs.”

The bill has been received by the Senate for introduction.