A Former Prosecutor Defending Clients in Wyoming and South Dakota
In February 2019, Governor Mark Gordon signed Justice Reinvestment legislation into law. The new laws, which include House Enrolled Act (HEA) 15, Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 19, SEA 50, and SEA 50 are intended to reduce the number of repeat offenders and reduce costs associated with incarceration. These changes will reduce the frequency with which people are sent to jail for technical parole or probation violations, including minor drug offenses.
The stated goal of the new legislation is to decrease recidivism rates 25% by 2024, and avoid $18.1 million in costs associated with incarceration by reinvesting those funds into community-based health treatment for people who are on probation and parole.
Wyoming prisons are at capacity and the prison population is expected to grow, largely due to revocations from supervision which are often driven by drug offenses. This is straining the Wyoming prison system and will result in massive increases to the state’s corrections budget.
In 2017 alone, more than half of admissions to the Wyoming prison system were for technical probation or parole violations, not new criminal activity.
Drug-related offenses accounted for 17% of arrests in 2017, and are straining prison resources and behavioral health delivery systems.
The current prison population exceeds capacity, and Wyoming’s Department of Corrections has contracted with out-of-state private prison facilities and in-state county jails to house additional prisoners.
Approximately 25% of inmates were imprisoned for drug sentences, and half of new inmates are in prison for violating the terms of probation or parole by using a controlled substance.
Responding to supervision violations has proved costly and ineffective, and the majority are for technical violations that did not include a new felony conviction. Wyoming spends $30 million annually incarcerating people who were revoked from supervision. Drug use is a common cause for supervision revocation.
At the same time, Wyoming is facing declining state revenues that have made it more difficult for Wyoming to invest in strategies to reduce recidivism and lower crime rates.
The February legislation aims to address these issues by improving community supervision practices and reducing the number of repeat offenders.
Under the new laws, judges will have more freedom to set the length and terms of probation and supervision, impose fines, and reduce terms of probation. Specifically, judges will consider eight standardized criteria when determining the period of probation or the modification of a probation term. The criteria include:
Probation and parole violations will be dealt with through swift, certain, and proportional sanctions, and defendants can expect to receive additional substance abuse treatment and behavioral intervention to address criminal thinking.
The goal of these measures is to reduce the number of people whose probation is revoked while still holding them accountable and promoting positive behavioral changes.
Wyoming’s rising prison population is largely driven by technical probation and parole violations, and people on supervision who have unaddressed substance addictions and/or mental health needs.
Unlike other states, whose prison population is expected to decrease, Wyoming’s prison population is expected to grow, increasing approximately 9% over the next 4 years and requiring an additional 201 additional beds and a cost of $18 million in new spending.
To reverse this trend, the ACLU has recommended legislation that will admit fewer people to prison and, when people are imprisoned, they will serve less time.
Studies show that increasing access to treatment for substance use disorders can reduce crime rates. Diversion programs that provide mental health and substance abuse treatment will also reduce rates of incarceration and offer rehabilitation.
The ACLU report also called for legislation that would further limit probation and parole, a review of the state’s criminal laws, and a decrease in reliance on cash bail. The report suggests the elimination of some mandatory minimum sentencing requirements, and proposes limits on enhancements that can be triggered by a prior criminal record.
At the Just Criminal Law Group, our team of experienced criminal defense professionals represents people who have been accused of crimes. Whether you have been charged with a new crime or are charged with a supervision or parole violation, we are here to help.
Our founder, Christina L. Williams, is a former prosecutor who has dedicated her career to the practice of criminal law. She is supported by a team of criminal defense professionals who will thoroughly investigate the charges against you and fight to protect your one shot at justice.
Call us at 307-686-6556, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or complete our online form.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.