Cheyenne, W.Y., Nov. 11, 2019 – Over the weekend, supporters of a Wyoming advocacy group expressed enthusiasm about last week’s legislation aimed at reducing recidivism rates. They also raised concerns.
The legislation tasks the Department of Health with a role in mental health and substance abuse treatment for former prisoners. It also calls for a new quality improvement unit within the Department of Corrections.
“We’re excited that legislators are taking action and getting the Department of Health involved with mental health and substance abuse treatment for formerly incarcerated individuals,” said TReND Wyoming board member Megan McGhee. “At the same time, there are some very big unanswered questions.”
TReND supporters pointed out that while the legislation (20LSO-0295) provides approximately $650,000 in funds for a new quality improvement unit within the Department of Corrections, it doesn’t specifically provide budgetary support for the Department of Health’s role.
“It comes very close to being an unfunded mandate,” McGhee continued. “Where is the funding going to come from? Will other programs have to be cut? If so, who will be impacted by these cuts?”
Just last week, TReND supporters said, legislators struck down a bill that would have provided funding for this effort via alcohol tax.
Early results of an online survey launched by TReND in early November indicate a strong level of trust in the Department of Health to provide these services, TReND representatives said.
“Formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, and mental health service providers are in favor,” McGhee said. “There’s a sense that the Department of Health may be well-positioned to help these individuals, and ultimately to help reduce recidivism rates.”
According to TReND’s website, Wyoming’s prison population is projected to increase an additional 9% between now and Fiscal Year 2023. It goes on to state that a significant percentage of these incarcerations result from parole or probation revocation due to possession and use offenses of controlled substances. “Trauma and mental health issues can be treated most effectively outside prison walls,” it states.
Supporters of the TReND Wyoming coalition have their eye on an additional piece of proposed legislation that would authorize the Governor to explore Medicaid expansion in Wyoming.
“We know how hard it is to get help with timely drug and mental health treatment if you don’t have good health insurance. Many in the community we serve could benefit from Medicaid expansion,” said TReND board member Jason Mittlieder.
The debate on the Medicaid expansion draft bill (20LSO-0263) is scheduled to begin at 8 am, Tuesday, November 12, 2019, at Laramie County Community College – Pathfinder Building, Room 108 1400 E College Drive in Cheyenne.
How to Get Involved
Those who’ve been formerly incarcerated, along with their family members and concerned members of the Wyoming community at large, are encouraged to get involved.
“We hope to include as many voices as we can in influencing legislation,” Mittlieder said. “Specifically, we’d like to gather stories we can then share with legislators. Personal stories can have a big impact.”
Interested individuals can visit the TReND website for further information and to register their opinion via anonymous online survey: https://www.trendwyoming.org. They can also follow our Facebook page at the following URL: https://www.facebook.com/trendwyoming/.
About TReND Wyoming
TReND stands for “Treatment and Recovery, Not Detention.”
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.