Joint Judiciary Committee continues efforts to transfer treatment courts to the State Supreme Court
The Joint Judiciary Committee is continuing to work on the transfer of court supervised treatment programs from the Department of Health to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Some hope handing over the substance abuse court program’s oversight to the judicial branch will make treatment courts more effective--since the Supreme Court is directly involved with these programs.
Natrona County Circuit Judge Brian Christensen told the committee that it’s now more important than ever to have a robust and effective treatment court system.
“Fentanyl is kicking our butts right now. We're dealing with another scourge beyond methamphetamine. And we either have to attack it and become proactive or sit back and let it take us over,” said Christensen. “And the more we can be proactive, the more it will save money in the long run.”
A couple of committee members expressed worry over the amount of money this transfer and continuing the program would cost, but almost everyone who testified said in the long run this would save money.
Benjamin Burningham, the chief legal officer of the Wyoming Supreme Court, said Wyoming faces a mental health crisis worsened by the pandemic. Drug overdoses have increased in Wyoming from 11.1 per 100,000 in 2018 to 17.4 per 100,000 in 2020. Plus, most recent data shows that 86 percent of inmates in the Wyoming Correction System required some form of behavioral health need.
“And our point here is that incarceration is not the best avenue for treatment. For one, that's expensive, and then, it's not always effective,” said Burningham.
He went further to say if the judicial branch was given full administrative control and the necessary resources, they could establish treatment courts in unserved areas, increase the capacity of existing treatment courts and establish uniform standards with enforcement through vertical leadership.
“Wyoming drug courts reduce recidivism and save taxpayers money. Five years after drug court treatment, we estimate a return of at least $6.95 for every $1 spent on drug court programs in Wyoming,“ reads the Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center, Wyoming’s Court Supervised Treatment Programs: A Cost-Benefit Analysis (Aug. 30, 2021).
If the bill is approved, the full transition wouldn’t happen until July 2024. The committee is recommending passage of the bill to the legislature.