Lawmakers Say 'Deep Dive' Into Juvenile Justice Needed

Mar 9, 2021

Wyoming Children's Law Center Director Donna Sheen testifies in support of a bill to eliminate fines and fees for juvenile offenders.
Credit Screen shot from Wyoming Legislature video

Wyoming lawmakers say how the state treats juvenile offenders needs an in depth review and possibly reform.

A proposal to look at juvenile justice as an interim topic was discussed by the House Judiciary Committee in response to a bill that would eliminate fines and fees for juvenile offenders.

Proponents of the bill pointed to national research indicating that fines do not help young adults change behavior, while opponents worried the bill would strip away the courts' ability to hold them accountable.

The bill failed, but the majority of the committee agreed more discussion was needed.

Casper Rep. Art Washut, who opposed the bill, spoke in support of juvenile justice as an interim topic.

"I think we really need to make a deeper dive and get a better understanding of the whole juvenile justice system and look at the financial aspects as well as the practical aspects of the juvenile justice system," said Washut.

Committee Chairman Jared Olsen supported the bill, and said Wyoming needs more data on juvenile justice, especially things like recidivism rates for juvenile offenders.

"I think that if anyone spent any time looking at any national data it would be clear to them that fines and fees to juveniles does not impact the return rate as you would hope it would," said Olsen.

Return rate means whether kids are successfully rehabilitated or get in trouble again. But lawmakers expressed concern that without knowing those rates it's hard to evaluate whether fines and fees are effective or not.

Lawmakers say that lack of state data is one of the reasons they are hoping to study the issue. Young people end up in adult courts at higher rates than most states, and data from the U.S. Department of Justice shows that Wyoming has the highest juvenile incarceration rate in the nation.