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For 20 Years Wyoming Failed To Collect Juvenile Justice Data

Screenshot of the Wyoming Legislature meeting around a table
Wyoming Legislature
The Joint Judiciary Committee convened in Cheyenne September 13-14, 2021.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Wyoming commits juvenile offenders to facilities at rates well above the national average, but state-level data that could help local lawmakers understand why that's happening is hard to access. For example, recidivism rates for Wyoming's juvenile justice programs are unavailable.

The legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee is working on a bill to finally solve that problem.

Twenty years ago Wyoming lawmakers passed similar legislation requiring the Division of Criminal Investigation to coordinate with the courts to gather juvenile justice data and to report to the legislature on an annual basis, but that never happened.

"Everyone, on all three branches of government, are responsible for this failure," Senate Co-Chair Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) told the committee. "For 20 years we were supposed to have been reported to about this data, and we never asked for the report, never received the report obviously and didn't review the report. So we dropped the ball as legislators. The judicial branch never turned over any of the data and the executive branch never asked for it to be collected. So an epic failure on all of our parts for which we all share responsibility."

Nethercott urged the committee to move on from past mistakes to work towards solutions and said without reliable statewide data it's hard to evaluate whether current policies lead to positive outcomes for youth and public safety.

"Should we be spending our money differently, and more effectively and more efficiently?" Nethercott asked the committee. "I think it's fair to say that none of us know the answer to that question, but we are committed to finding it, and so that's the goal of the data."

Several lawmakers suggested the new legislation should include consequences for government entities that fail to share juvenile justice data.

"It's simply unacceptable to individual players in this complex system who opt not to play," Rep. Art Washat (R-Casper) told the committee. "And we have to have a mechanism that holds individual data holders accountable for not sharing that data."

The new draft legislation has the Department of Family Services collecting juvenile justice data this time. Director Korin Schmidt agreed with the committee's focus on data gathering, but she told the committee a comprehensive system that captures data from across the state won't be possible without money, more personnel and time.

The Joint Judiciary Committee plans to meet one more time to discuss the possibility of presenting the bill to the legislature during the upcoming 2022 session.

Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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