TReND Wyoming is a coalition of people and groups from across the state of Wyoming led by people and families directly impacted by our criminal justice system who believe that working with offenders with mental health and/or substance use issues need to be front and center in the conversation about criminal justice reform and reinvestment.
We need your help in urging legislators to reintroduce a bill to fund justice reinvestment. Please read this brief letter and take action if you’re able.
Would you prefer mental health and drug treatment programs for formerly-incarcerated Wyoming residents be run out of the Department of Corrections or the Department of Health? Please complete our brief survey on this topic. It will help us support you better. Create your own user feedback survey
Community–based mental health and substance abuse treatment is an indispensable part of any solution that hopes to lower the number of people behind bars. Using a criminal justice approach alone has resulted in a high percentage of Wyoming people being incarcerated when we should be helping our families, friends, and neighbors get what they need outside prison and jail walls – and in the communities in which they belong. Together, we can make this happen for a better and more productive Wyoming tomorrow.
We want you to join us.
The Big Picture: Nationwide Justice Reform Efforts
The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. In an effort to decrease the number of people in prisons and jails, and implement a better way of working with non-violent offenders, over 35 states have taken measures to reform their justice system
, reserving prison space for those convicted of serious offenses and saving these states billions of dollars. A portion of the savings are reinvested– justice reinvestment– into support services that help those convicted of minor offenses and on probation or parole stay out of the “revolving door of justice”. These states have realized a drop in crime rates.
The Opportunity in Wyoming
Bucking the trend nationwide where most states are seeing a decrease in the percentage of their citizens being incarcerated or being state-supervised through probation or parole, Wyoming’s prison population increased by 21% between Fiscal Year 2007 and Fiscal Year 2018. Some Wyoming prisoners are currently being housed in Mississippi because Wyoming’s correctional facilities have run out of space. At the current rate of growth, Wyoming’s prison population will increase an additional 9% between now and Fiscal Year 2023. A significant percentage of these incarcerations result from parole or probation revocation due to possession and use offenses of controlled substances. At the heart of many substance abuse issues, including alcohol abuse, is a co-occurring mental health issue and/or a personal history of repeated trauma often starting in childhood. Half of families experiencing domestic violence involve substance abuse, and both the violence and the substance abuse need to be treated together. Trauma and mental health issues can be treated most effectively outside prison walls, and the Washington State Institute of Public Policy found that every dollar invested in community-based drug treatment results in $13.43 in benefit to the local community
And that’s an investment worth making.
Some of the Hurdles We Face in Wyoming
In many parts of Wyoming, community-based services are unavailable. When community mental health and substance abuse treatment options in Wyoming are lacking, judges often feel that prison is the only viable option where treatment is available, despite the fact that treatment behind prison walls isn’t as effective as community-based treatment, and jails often lack any treatment services at all. Confinement, whether in jails or prisons, compounds the effects of a history of trauma. Punishments for a crime such as misdemeanor marijuana possession can vary widely across the state: misdemeanor possession in one county may result in a ticket, whereas in another county it may result in a short period of confinement with years of probation.
What If We Do Nothing?
Once an individual enters the justice system, a downward spiral of related events are often set in motion. Job loss, homelessness, limitations on educational opportunities, high risk of future poverty, family separation, etc., become common realities, and each effect both compounds and increases the likelihood of the other negative impacts. Families, particularly children, bear the brunt of a parent’s involvement in the criminal justice system. A family’s ability to weather stress and crises becomes significantly diminished, both financially and emotionally. Individuals re-entering a community often find themselves ostracized without a positive social support system. Employers are reluctant to hire ex-offenders. Ex-offenders are often without basic means of transportation or the ability to get a drivers license needed to get to work or abide by conditions of probation and parole, which often are overly onerous and lengthy for individuals who are at low risk of re-offending. These are called “collateral sanctions”, or “invisible punishments”, and for many these hardships are more severe than the charges they faced in the first place. The odds are increasingly stacked against these individuals having the ability to improve their situations and reach their personal potential. The individual’s odds of recidivating without having committed another crime increase dramatically, and the resulting cost to the individual, families, taxpayers, and society last for generations.
We can change this. But just changing the way probation and parole is done in Wyoming won’t work without the support for change that ex-offenders need to succeed for themselves, their families, and their communities. TReND Wyoming believes that an effective approach to supporting people with mental health and/or substance use issues is best done with policies that blend public health and criminal justice models.