An organization that offers non-partisan recommendations on a variety of issues says in the last ten years Wyoming's prison population grew by 12 percent. This number makes Wyoming the 9th largest percentage change in the country.
The Council of State Governments (CSG) was hired by the legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee to help find a solution to prison overcrowding. They presented their results to the committee Tuesday while discussing justice reinvestment. The organization says in the last year alone, over half the people sent to prison are there due to a probation or parole violation. Mark Pelka, the director of CSG’s justice branch, said they are helping the committee identify factors that cause a criminal to continually re-offend.
“By factors, I mean unaddressed drug abuse needs, or challenges maintaining employment or negative peer association,” said Pelka.
Pelka said if state policymakers address problems sooner, they can reduce the numbers of people who need to be imprisoned. A local sheriff agreed.
Steve Rakness, Washakie County sheriff, told the members about a woman who was sent prison many times until finally she was sent to a treatment center.
“She goes to Sheridan for four months or somewhere in there for alcohol substance abuse and comes out that evening and gets arrested for a DUI again. These folks just don't have any willpower to maintain their sobriety," said Rakness.
Rakness said people could have more willpower if the treatment was offered earlier rather than after six to 12 months in prison. Rakness also said the state should also educate kids about the consequences of substance abuse. The State Department of Corrections was forced to send 88 inmates to a private facility in Mississippi due to prison overcrowding. The CSG will be working with the committee throughout the year to find ways to reverse current trends.