SHERIDAN — More than half of prison admissions in 2017 were from probation and parole revocations, resulting in an estimated cost of $30 million per year for people incarcerated from supervision. The Council of State Governments Justice Center suggested increasing access to community treatment and improving swiftness and certainty of sanctions to strengthen supervision, thus providing more cost-effective responses to violations and less taxpayer money spent on incarceration.

The CSG stepped in to help Wyoming evaluate its judicial system after the Wyoming Department of Corrections lost federal funding for a study last year. The study’s purpose was to provide a nonpartisan, data-driven approach to reduce corrections spending and reinvest savings in strategies that can decrease recidivism and increase public safety, according to documentation from the justice reinvestment study. 

Funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice assistance and The Pew Charitable Trusts made the study possible. 

Between 2013 and 2017, the number of people admitted to prison for supervision revocations spiked 27 percent, an increase of 123 people, phase 1 of the justice reinvestment study concluded.

Phase one includes analyzing data and presenting findings to stakeholders and leaders in the Wyoming Legislature. Phase two includes policy implementation and measuring impact and outcomes. Six states are currently in phase two of the project with CSG; four states are currently in phase one with the organization; and past states participating in the justice reinvestment approach totaled 24 states. 

Marc Pelka, deputy director of state relations for the CSG Justice Center, presented the center’s many options to decrease recidivism and increase success in supervision programs within the offender’s community.

The center suggested Wyoming expand access to evidence-based and cognitive behavioral community programs. Right now, judges on the western side of the state are suffering the repercussions of justice funding going to incarceration instead of community programs and treatment facilities.

At the questioning of Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, Judge Marvin Tyler, who presides over the 9th Judicial District Court in Pinedale in Sublette County shared that his jurisdiction has no community resources.

Tyler sends his probation candidates to the closest county with services — Fremont County — and sees the struggle to obtain a bed date for community-based inpatient treatment at the closest location in Rock Springs.

“I’m not being critical, this is what I see and what I have to consider,” Tyler said.

If a person remains incarcerated while waiting for a bed date at inpatient treatment, the wait extends two to three months from that of a person not incarcerated.

Tyler noted that much of the state’s resources lie in the eastern half of the state, and the western half truly struggles for community-based treatment options for criminals. Kinskey did not realize just how “strapped” the western half of the state was for options.

“I think that was enlightening and goes right to the heart of justice reinvestment,” Kinskey said. “I think if we can find a way to take the millions and millions of dollars we’re spending on prison and use it for these community-based options that are in short supply, we may actually improve lives and reduce recidivism.”

Sheridan serves as a regional hub for outpatient services, but still struggles to provide any inpatient services for those needing substance or mental health counseling. Kinskey said mental health centers in Wyoming are chronically underfunded and their funding is in danger every single year. He also mentioned the medication-assisted therapy as a new option to certain parts of the state, but the concept has not yet been applied statewide.

The study discovered Wyoming appropriated $8 million for substance addiction treatment in prison, but the state still does not have a system in place to assure timely access to treatment in the community for the general supervision population. The center suggested adding availability of timely, evidence-based treatment for people on probation and parole who have substance addictions and/or mental illnesses across Wyoming.

Legislative members of the Joint Judiciary Committee will meet again Nov. 15-16 in Cheyenne before heading into the 2019 legislative session.