Gov. Mark Gordon has announced the new director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections (WDOC). Dan Shannon has been with the department since 2007 and previously served as the deputy director. Shannon, who's been in the corrections field for more than 20 years, said reorganization of the department due to budget cuts is his main focus. He spoke with Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler about how the department will be adapting to working with less.
Catherine Wheeler: Well, congratulations on the new position.
Dan Shannon: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
CW: Could you explain a little bit of how the department was affected by this round of budget cuts?
DS: Well, [the] departments affected in a number of ways. First and foremost, we have to remain fiscally responsible and get things in line and live within our means. But it's also a balancing act where we don't step to the other side where we're jeopardizing the safety. We've cut a million dollars of operational costs out of three smaller facilities and $1.5 million out of our larger facilities. We had 162 positions that were removed from our budget. Eighty-two of those were unfunded, but it also included 14 individuals here from the central office that lost employment.
CW: Are you anticipating further cuts?
DS: I would anticipate, yes, that we will have additional cuts. It's a balancing act, I have to say, we're going to be a much leaner corrections [department] than we were in the past. [Former] Director Lampart clearly put us on a pathway to have a solid foundation for the department, but things have changed with COVID. We have to, also, be able to produce an excellent product. We're responsible to ensure that when individuals return to our communities that they're going back in a lot better way than when they came to us. So we're going to have to function differently. We no longer can look at our department the way we did just even up to a year or two years ago. And I'll give you some examples. The way we're housing our inmates, the locations. I returned the inmates back from Mississippi. We also had our female offenders in Scottsbluff. We had 34 of those we returned, and also, individuals were housed in county jails. We don't really have an inmate populace issue. They just need to be reassigned and the way we housed them. Now we have staffing issues that are [in the] Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins, which I'm going to work on next to address. So fundamentally, it'll look much different than it did even a year ago, that being the department itself.
CW: You mentioned a little about reorganizing the populations. I think the state has been talking about how facilities have been overwhelmed by the numbers. Is that not the case anymore? Or do you think it needs to be reorganized to use the space more effectively?
DS: We have our boot camp that I asked the judiciary, on an interim topic, to change the way we presented to be a more cognitive based program, which has been moving forward and we'll follow it through the legislative session. That's a 64-bed facility at Newcastle but never have been more than 13 or 14 individuals in it. I'm going to reassign that to our penitentiary. And then I will have our females, which we were going to build a new building [for], reassigned [to] that program, we'll create our female facility to our women's center. Now with that being said, our ladies who are attending our intensive treatment program have always had a backlog. We're going to reassign that to Newcastle that will provide 64 beds and also free up the amount of space, 50 beds in our facility. We have vacancies in our minimum facility in Riverton, and I will resign the individuals from Newcastle to Riverton, thereby freeing up space for our penitentiary. So it really is a matter of restructuring the way we look at corrections and the way we have to conscientiously and objectively house them. According to our classification, we're not going to put any person or community at risk. But we do have vacancies we just haven't taken from that really weren't necessary to take advantage of in the past.
CW: And beyond challenges with the budget, what are the other biggest challenges you think the department is currently facing?
DS: My number one focus excluding the budget right now is COVID. We were fortunate we took some very drastic steps. I would use that term because there's nothing more important than interaction and family visits, things of that nature. We canceled all that in March, we found alternative ways. We are following CDC guidelines, that's changing constantly. Just in July, we had an excess of 100 individuals positive. Right now we're down to about five or six [inmates], we're doing some work with the Department of Health. We're doing wastewater treatment, too. In July, we were doing mandatory testing of all staff and inmates. Now we're down 20 percent sampling. [It's] my focus right now because it's a very serious situation. And we're the same as a community. I mean, we're all living together there, we function as a community. It doesn't matter if a person is going to an educational service or a person has medical such as dialysis treatments necessary, we perform that inside our facilities, and COVID as well. And when COVID gets inside, it's extremely dangerous. And in just the same as we see the growth across our state. That's what's really keeping me up at night at this point.
CW: Dan Shannon is the new director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections. Thank you, Dan for taking the time to speak with me.
DS: Thank you for your time.
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at firstname.lastname@example.org.