Report: reforms could save Wyo. money, cut prison population in half by 2025

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CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming’s prison population could be cut in half by 2025 and the state could save millions of dollars if “sensible” criminal justice reforms are enacted.

That is according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming, who announced the release of their new “Blueprint for Smart Justice” report on Tuesday, Aug. 13.

Wyoming has seen a 363% increase in the prison population between 1980 and 2017, the report states. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of people in state prisons across the country saw a 3% decrease, but increased in Wyoming 12% over that time.

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(Courtesy of the ACLU of Wyoming)

Without reform, ACLU of Wyoming cites a Council for State Governments projection that Wyoming will see an added 200 people in the prison system by 2023, which will cost the state an estimated $50 million for new prison contracts or construction.

“The report highlights sensible reforms that, if implemented, would mean 1,528 fewer people in the state’s prison system by 2025, saving taxpayers more than $166 million that could be invested in schools, services and other resources that would strengthen communities,” the announcement states.

One such reform would be to expand Wyomingites access to mental health and addiction treatment.

The report states that nine of ten men and eight of ten women in Wyoming’s prisons in 2018 were in need of substance use treatment.

“Mental health diversion is an effective way to redirect people out of the criminal legal system and into supportive community treatment,” ACLU of Wyoming says.

“Current mental health diversion efforts in Wyoming, however, have proven ineffective because of a lack of adequate upfront funding. Similarly, substance use disorders are often underlying drivers of a substantial number of crimes. Addressing substance use through treatment rather than incarceration can more effectively reduce crime.”

Expanding Medicaid would be one avenue to support wider access to mental health and substance use treatment, the group says.

“’Wyoming taxpayers are footing the bill for a bloated prison system that has failed to make us safer,’ said Heather Smith, executive director for the ACLU of Wyoming. ‘This blueprint bolsters the case for a bold, forward-looking reform agenda that will prioritize people and not prisons, enhance safety and help people live law-abiding lives.'”

“‘Real criminal justice reform like this will require leadership and commitment from our legislators, police, district attorneys, judges, and people in each part of the system, and it’s our hope that this blueprint will help inspire and guide this much-needed reform.’”

The report also outlines other possible reforms. Those include the following:

· Advocating for a restorative justice model for the wider criminal justice system

· Expanding probation as the presumptive punishment for certain crimes

· Prohibiting incarceration in cases of technical violations of parole and probation

· Reducing reliance on cash bail and creating a fairer, smarter pretrial system

ACLU of Wyoming

Also included in the report is an overview of which populations are incarcerated in Wyoming. It looks at racial disparities in the prison population as well as exploring how people get into the prison system.

It states that black adults were incarcerated at “nearly 5 times the rate of white adults in 2015.”

In 2015, Native Americans accounted for 2% of the state’s population, but made up 5% of Wyoming’s prison population.

Wyoming’s rate of incarcerated women saw an increase of 905% between 1980 and 2017.

“It also offers a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs, and progress toward a 50 percent decarceration goal,” ACLU of Wyoming says.

The national ACLU has prepared reports for each state.

“An interactive website presents the reports and allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison populations that would result from the policy decisions,” the announcement concludes. “The Wyoming report can be found at https://50stateblueprint.aclu.org/states/wyoming/.”