Cheyenne, WY. – As repair work continues on Wyoming’s maximum security prison in Rawlins, a new report suggests ways for the state to relieve some of the stress on its overburdened criminal justice system.
Sabrina King, policy director with the ACLU of Wyoming, said “tough on crime” tactics have filled jails and prisons to capacity but haven’t made the state safer. Her group is calling on the Legislature to reduce incarceration rates, protect communities and ensure the state is fiscally sound.
“And to really think carefully when passing legislation that in the moment may seem like the right thing to do but really is just locking Wyoming into spending more and more money on corrections and prisons and putting people behind bars,” King said.
The report, “Bucking the Trend,” shows how incarceration rates have boomed over the past twenty years, largely because of the increasing number of state laws that create new crimes and impose harsher penalties. The report’s recommendations include reforming probation and parole rules, establishing a boot camp program for women to help reduce sentences, and revisiting the state’s nonviolent drug laws.
King noted that 1-in-130 Wyoming residents is incarcerated, and said the number of people in prison or under supervision would rank as the 10th largest town in the state. She added that tactics such as rehabilitation, education and restorative justice – a practice where victims and offenders meet to decide how to repair the harm done – are better ways to help people become contributing members of society.
“Now, we’re not saying that there should be no consequences to committing a crime,” she said. “What we’re saying is we need to start looking at alternatives to simply dumping more and more taxpayer money into the prison system.”
King said moving forward, the Legislature also should reconsider pre-trial policy reforms, and examine the state’s property crime laws.
Eric Galatas, Public News Service