In a report on Wyoming’s Juvenile Justice System formally released today, the ACLU of Wyoming calls for establishing a unified juvenile court system to handle all court-involved youth throughout the state, enforcing standards for youth detention statewide, and creating a data-collection process to gauge the success of Wyoming’s youth rehabilitation services.
The report, "Inequality in the Equality State: The Damaged Juvenile Justice and Detention System in Wyoming," represents more than five years of research by the ACLU.
Wyoming’s youth are the future of our state and should be given every opportunity to succeed. In Wyoming 85% of all children are adjudicated in adult courts instead of being provided the protection and rehabilitation that would be required by a juvenile court system. Only a minority of Wyoming youth are processed through a juvenile court system. Most youth are seen by judges or other officials with little training in handling youth or knowledge of juvenile law. The majorities of children are not represented by lawyers and waive their right to legal representation without fully understanding the consequences of doing so. Because there are no statewide guidelines outlining which youth should be subjected to secure detention, Wyoming has one of the highest youth incarceration rates in the nation; state officials too often rely on detention as the default solution – a choice that carries a heavy financial and social cost.
Unlike most states, Wyoming has no overarching goals, planning or administration of juvenile justice, and youth are subject to vastly different treatment based on where they live. The disparity in treatment of youth in the system is at the heart of the state’s juvenile justice crisis; a unified juvenile court with exclusive jurisdiction is the key to reform.
Efforts by state legislators to improve the juvenile justice system in recent years are a positive sign, but far more remains to be done. The Joint Judiciary Committee’s announcement of an interim study that will look into juvenile justice issues with an emphasis in jurisdiction is a step that is long overdue.
The report calls on the legislature to transform the current county-by-county approach into a unified statewide system based on the principles of restorative justice, accountability and community safety. The system should build on research-proven programs and best practices across the county and should be available to all Wyoming children.
Please take the time to read,"Inequality in the Equality State." Click here to read our press release, or read the Casper Star Tribune’s article on the report. The Washington Examiner also ran an excellent AP article. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Want to get involved? Your voice can make the difference in how the Joint Judiciary Committee handles this issue. If you’re generally concerned about Wyoming’s children, or if you have personally experiences the inequities and harsh treatment of Wyoming’s broken system, please urge your legislators to solve the juvenile justice crisis in Wyoming.