Substance Abuse Treatment Cuts Could Harm Wyoming Prisoners

Jul 29, 2016

State-wide gathering for WAMHSAC (Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers) to discuss the budget cuts they were facing from the Wyoming Department of Health.
Credit Liam Niemeyer

Due to Wyoming’s economic downturn, a number of state agencies have been required to cut their budgets to make up for a revenue shortfall that could reach $300 million. Among the cuts is $1 million that the Wyoming Department of Corrections uses for substance abuse treatment. 

At the same time, the Wyoming Department of Health is cutting funding for local substance abuse treatment. Some worry the cuts could harm those in and out of the prison system.

Department of Corrections Substance Abuse Treatment Manager Sam Borbely said the budget cut means his agency had to cut 98 substance abuse treatment beds in its prisons and completely cut treatment services for those who leave prison. Borbely said it will change the way they have to do business.

“It’s gonna put us in a position where we’re going to have to prioritize treatment who need it the most. It would be nice if we had the dollars to continue, but we’re going to have to make those tough choices.”

The plan is that all inmates will receive services from community mental health centers when they leave prison if needed. The problem is that the Department of Health has been forced to cut funding to those providers.

Jeff Holsinger with the Volunteers of America Treatment Center in Sheridan said mental health centers won’t have the resources to treat the people they normally see along with those who have been released from prison.

“There’s only a certain amount of capacity, and we’re at capacity. We’re beyond capacity. And we have people on waiting lists. And now we’re saying we’re gonna add a bunch more people. Well, we’re at capacity. That’s it.”

It's going to take somebody crossing the traditional lines between the court system, probation and the Department of Health and to bring these people together to work together. And I personally don't know who that leader is right now.

Holsinger estimates his facility’s waitlist will increase to 6 to 9 months, a long wait for people leaving prison.

Joe Niverson is a mentor at the Sheridan treatment center who is a recovered drug addict himself. He said he fears what might happen if inmates are unable to receive the treatment they need.

“I don’t think they’re gonna make it. I think the vast majority of the people that are getting out that have addiction, that have substance abuse problems are going to relapse long before 6 months.”

That possibility could land them back in prison. The easy solution is to put money back into both programs. Wyoming Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Tony Ross said that’s not likely.

“There’s no doubt that there’s gonna be pain here. I don’t have any great words of wisdom for you there. Everyone’s going to have to share this pain including the university, community colleges, family services, game and fish. All of those institutions are going to face budget cuts.”

Senator Ross suggests that stakeholders work with local non-profits to find a cheaper way to provide these services. Kipp Dana with the High Country Behavioral Health Center in Kemmerer said Ross’ idea is not a bad one. He said other states have done this. But Wyoming needs to act now.

"We need to be more reactive to this right now. And people should be pulling their ideas together now. It’s gonna take somebody, and I’m going to say in Cheyenne," Dana said. "But it’s going to take somebody crossing the traditional lines between the court system, probation and the Department of Health and to bring these people together to work together. And I personally don’t know who that leader is right now."

Dana said it’s clear that communication is seriously lacking. He said that needs to change soon.