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Campbell County is launching the state’s pilot program for a new type of adult treatment court program

Campbell County Courthouse
J. Stephen Conn
Flickr via CC BY-NC 2.0
The Campbell County Courthouse in Gillette will host the new adult treatment court. The county was chosen by the state to host a pilot program to determine whether it can eventually be implemented in other counties.

Campbell County is launching an adult treatment court program to help those with mental health issues. The county was chosen by the state to start a pilot program in the hope that the court program can be implemented in other counties. The program will model what the county has hosted in the form of its treatment courts for the past two decades to help those with mental health and substance abuse turn their lives around.

The focus is placed on treatment and rehabilitation, freeing up space in jail and reducing the burdens on local courts to hear cases for low-level misdemeanor offenses. It’s initially set to begin with addressing these kinds of cases that are mental health-based that can be treated with medication.

“What we're attempting to do here is peel those cases out [from the court system] so we can get them out of the detention center,” said District Court Judge Matthew Castano. “We can get them stabilized on whatever medications they may be and give them the support around them so that they're not continuing to go back into a [bad] mental health cycle, coming to the attention [of] law enforcement, going to the detention center and using a lot of resources that way.”

The court is set to begin operations in early 2024. A first for Wyoming, the model is based on treatment court programs that have run for years in Miami-Dade County, Florida, called the Miami model.

“Obviously there's a lot of differences between Miami-Dade County and Campbell County, Wyoming,” he said. “We really asked to do some things to tailor the program to the community and to the state.”

The need for a court of this type stems from the number of people who are arrested and held in jail for nonviolent misdemeanors plus treating those with mental health and substance abuse issues either out of jail or to have their charges dropped if they complete the program.

“[When] most of that had been done [mental competency assessments of fitness to stand trial], people would oftentimes be incarcerated while that process was ongoing for periods of time far in excess of what they would most likely have received for the underlying crime,” he said.

Castano, as well as Paul Phillips, a circuit court judge, have been two of the driving forces behind the program. The county sheriff’s department, which operates Campbell County Detention Center, and several other local government departments and community organizations have expressed their support for it as well.

“We're going to coordinate it through our existing treatment court program and through the existing board that supervises the treatment court programs [that] are responsible for the treatment court programs,” Castano said. “That gives us on hand case managers, people who know the resources in the community and can really triage people out to the necessary services as efficiently as possible and help them really can navigate that whole system.”

Campbell County currently has three treatment courts that deal with juveniles and families, adults with felonies and adults with misdemeanor offenses. The county has hosted their adult treatment courts since 2001. A DWI court was launched in 2016 and was converted into a misdemeanor court in March of this year. That means it includes misdemeanor drug offenses. This new program will initially focus on mental health-related offenses.

County statistics show the courts have had an effect. Since the creation of the adult treatment court, 350 felony participants have participated in the program. Of this number, 226 have graduated with 80 percent success rate, meaning they haven’t had any new arrests in the three years post-graduation. All graduates of the court are tracked for three years to help determine success and recidivism rates. There are just under 80 participants in the misdemeanor program, of which 51 have graduated with a 90 percent success rate.

“Right now, the design is in Campbell County,” Castano said. “However, as we're discussing it, we're also trying to keep in mind, what do we do for those other surrounding communities, because obviously, access to mental health care in Gillette is a lot different than access to mental health care in Hulett…we’re trying to keep in mind the different circumstances of different communities in the state because we'd like this to be something that's useful in as many communities as possible.”

The funding model is still being worked out but could include a mix of public and private monies to fund the new court program, including assistance from the Wyoming Department of Health. Some existing treatment court staff may have to relocate to the new court and new employees hired for it. Judge Phillips will be the primary supervisor of the court and will hold participants accountable. It will be based in the Campbell County Courthouse where the current district and circuit court cases are held.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.

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