Why Is Cheyenne Putting Its Youth Crisis Center In A Jail?

Jul 10, 2015

Seventeen year old Robert Bruner has put his mom Jackie through hell--and he’s the first to admit it. Bruner says it all started a few years ago, when he was hit with a serious depression.

“Instead of coping with it the right way: writing stuff down, listening to music, being positive,” he says,  “I would smoke weed, snort pills, do whatever.”

They fought a lot. Robert was on probation for drug use, and when, one night, his mom caught him sneaking out to get high, she couldn’t take it anymore.

“So I brought him to the Crisis Center in Laramie.”

Robert spent a few days cooling off at Laramie’s Youth Crisis Center. There kids hang out in a living room with big windows, the doors aren’t locked and nobody chases you if you walk out. Robert says all that made him feel comfortable.

“It’s a homey environment,” he recalls. “You get to make your own food, sleep, take showers. It’s not like NSI [a long term facility located in Sheridan that Robert also spent time at] where a staff member has to watch you piss all the time.”

Youth crisis centers provide beds to kids in crisis for a few days, so they and their family can work through their issues without having to get law enforcement involved 1800 kids used across Wyoming used the service in 2013, for a total of over 14,000 shelter days. Nicole Hauser is the Executive Director of Cathedral Homes, which runs Laramie’s youth crisis center. She says that homey is how a youth crisis center should feel, and most do.

“We term it alternative to jail,” she says. “If a kiddo has gotten into trouble they can come stay at the crisis center and be safe and work through the issue, and help the family get them back home.”

Rawlins, Rock Springs, Gillette, Douglas, Lander--even the tiny town of Basin has a youth crisis center.

But Cheyenne, Wyoming’s biggest city, hasn’t had one since 2010.

That means Laramie’s crisis center has been getting a lot more kids from Cheyenne: in 2009, about 1 percent of its kids came from Laramie County; last year, it was almost 30 percent.

Nowadays Wyoming only pays for about two thirds of youth crisis centers’ operating costs. That’s down from about 80 percent a decade ago, and means the nonprofits that run them have had to step up their fundraising game.

Steve Corsi is with Wyoming’s Department of Family Services.  He says the state has wanted a youth crisis center in Cheyenne for years, and they’ve had some interested groups. “But they were from out of the area,” he says. “And they determined that to establish a standalone crisis center was not economically feasible.”

But last year DFS finally found a group willing to set up a youth crisis center in Cheyenne.

The Laramie County Sheriff’s Department.

“My personal opinion is it's not the optimal setting,” says Corsi.

Laramie County Sheriff’s Captain Mike Sorenson is in charge of runs Cheyenne’s juvenile detention center, which will soon house the youth crisis center. Sitting on on the side of the highway ten miles outside of town, the building is all metal and concrete--a far cry from the couches and wood paneling of its Laramie counterpart. Whether they are there to serve time or just to cool off, every kid walks through the same entrance.

“So if they are going to detention they would go through one door, to the secure side, and if they are going to the crisis shelter, they would go through here, to the crisis side,” he shows me.

Youth crisis centers are supposed to keep kids away from law enforcement, but here they will literally be in the middle of it. Detention officers will pull double duty as crisis center counselors. Captain Sorenson says they’ll make it work.

“I guess if we had a house it would feel more comfortable, but I’m satisfied we can make this as comfortable as we can.”

For now it's still unclear what kind of treatment kids will get at Cheyenne’s youth crisis center.

Its opening is delayed until the Sheriff’s Department can hire enough staff.