With a new year and new legislative session rapidly approaching, leaders in the Wyoming state legislature got a head start on criminal justice reform.
The state desperately needs additional reforms as the prison population has boomed, overloading the state system, and leading to added costs for holding prisoners in county jails and private facilities.
Without any adjustment, the state would be hit with an estimated $50 million in added costs. To set the table for reform to address the issue, the legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee endorsed three draft bills to reduce the prison population in a way that prioritizes public safety.
Parole and probation reform are the center of the reforms. Ensuring supervision is used to protect the public and in a way that facilitates reentry to society, rather than tripping up former offenders, would go a long way toward curbing prison population.
One measure advanced by the committee would cap probation terms to avoid wasting limited state resources supervising people who have not broken their probation terms for years. Another would provide more options for judges in sentencing. They could sentence offenders to unsupervised probation, and reduce sentences based on assessments of their risk to public safety.
The high costs are a sign that something is wrong with the system, and an impetus for reform. But the end goals of public safety and stronger families and communities must remain the focus.