Monday, September 26, 2011

Redistricting in Northeastern Wyoming

The corporations committee meeting held in the state fair cafeteria in Douglas on September 19th was well-attended with a majority of the audience county clerks, local officials and a few interested voters. The meeting began, as usual, with an explanation of the redistricting process and the use of the Wyoming legislative redistricting web site.

A local county clerk testified that it is difficult

keep Glen Rock and Converse whole as a result of a huge land mass and sparse population. Lucille Taylor of Platte and Goshen County is trying to keep from losing the lone representative in those counties.

A revised county clerks plan was presented for eastern Wyoming.

Representative Hunt explained his plan for the region. Representative Hunt added that he believes local people are the most qualified to put together specifics in the counties as they know the areas and communities of interest best.

Chairman Illoway voiced his concern that some of the plans emasculate Laramie County by dividing the county. Taking a “little bit” of land or population can make a huge difference in a county.

Representative Jaggi advised Representative Hunt that his plan is not viable without specific numbers to show the committee the plan will work.

Debbi Lathrop stated that seven of the eastern Wyoming County Clerks worked together to map a revised plan for eastern Wyoming. The Goshen County Clerk was not present at the meeting. This plan was not sponsored by any legislator or the clerks association.

Tracy Hunt, Representatiave Hunt’s father and former Crook County Commissioner talked at length about the Hunt plan. He suggested that the legislators are making the process difficult to protect peoples seats and that the process is simple and if Hunt’s plan is followed every County can have a district. The Constitution says the county boundaries should be respected and that the seats should be divided among counties by population. Mr. Hunt testified that all the committee has to do is follow Hunt’s plan and they can be done today. He suggested that Laramie County must realize that it has to contribute population to the plan to be fair. Representative Byrd says the Hunt plan does not provide for equal representation for all voters. He also took exception to the statement that this is a simple task.

Representative Patton pointed out that precincts are set by county clerks and not by legislature.

Senator Hines presented an alternative proposal for consideration.

Debbi Lathrop explains that 10 years ago the clerks worked with census bureau to establish census blocks. Precinct lines are the very last lines to be drawn and will come last after legislator has done redistricting.

There is an emphasis on respecting counties boundaries and all counties continue to want to remain whole. Given the population shifts in state, that is an extremely difficult problem.

Senator Driscoll says northeastern corner is a community of interest in terms of rural interests and they don’t want to be moved into bigger counties as they don’t have the same interests. He endorses county clerk’s plan that leaves counties intact. It is extremely important that poor rural counties are left intact so they have representation. He encourages the committee to leave the north area as is.

A County Commissioner from Weston County says Newcastle has little in common with Gillette as they are a very poor county and have little in common with such a rich county. Their needs would be ignored.

The tone of the meeting was somewhat more antagonistic than past meetings but the themes continue to be that all counties want to remain whole, they don’t want to lose representation and they don’t want change.

Friday, September 16, 2011

ACLU Film Screening a Huge Success

Last night, the ACLU of Wyoming along with Wyoming Equality presented a free screening of the stunning documentary, Out in the Silence. Our event was extremely well-attended and we’d like to thank everyone who showed up. After the film, a highly constructive discussion took place among participants of varying backgrounds detailing the challenges that LGBT people face in Wyoming. Some amazingly powerful thoughts and feelings were shared during our discussion. We appreciate all those who attended and want to especially thank Joe Wilson, Dean Hamer & Jeran Artery. Remember to stay tuned for future public events hosted by the Wyoming ACLU.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Free Public Film Screening Tomorrow (9/15)

The Wyoming ACLU is proud to partner with Wyoming Equality to host a free community screening of the award winning film, Out in the Silence, Thursday (9/15) at 7:00 pm at the Hilton Garden Inn in Laramie.

The screening will be followed by a community dialogue with the filmmakers Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, and Jeran Artery from Wyoming Equality aimed at engaging the audience in a conversation about fairness, equality, and inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, & transgender (LGBT) people in small towns and rural communities in Wyoming and across the county.

The film was produced in association with Penn State Public Broadcasting and the Sundance Institute, and is an Official Selection of the 2010 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival.

Exploring topics ranging from religion, safe schools and economic development, to discrimination, tolerance and understanding, Out in the Silence offers a compelling model for civic engagement and dialogue and is an ideal tool for bringing people of all ages together to begin the process of building bridges rather than walls on issues that have divided communities for far too long. These issues were brought to the forefront of the debate in the most recent Wyoming legislative session.

After Wilson’s own same-sex marriage announcement ignites a firestorm of controversy in Oil City, the small western Pennsylvania hometown he left long ago, Out in the Silence follows the stories of a mother who takes a courageous stand for her gay teenage son, an evangelical pastor and his wife who befriend Wilson and begin to rethink their most deeply held beliefs, and local residents who must decide what their cherished small town values really mean.

“What better places to promote dialogue and mutual understanding,” said Wilson “than in public libraries, churches, schools, colleges and universities, community centers and local theaters, those great institutions where families, friends and neighbors in small towns and rural communities come together to talk about and develop solutions to the most challenging issues of the day.”

Wilson and Hamer hope that events attract people from across the spectrum ready and willing to engage in constructive dialogue, including students, parents and educators, clergy, health and social service providers, civil leaders, and all those concerned about the well-being of all their communities.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Juvenile Justice Delayed is Juvenile Justice Denied

On August 30, the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee met in Worland to consider, among other things, Wyoming’s juvenile justice system. The Honorable Gary Hartman from Governor Mead’s office gave a presentation designed to cite long term problems with the treatment of youth in the criminal justice system in Wyoming.

Reports and recommendations dating back to the 1960’s have cited, as a main deficiency, the lack of a unified court system in which all youth are processed. Each county in Wyoming has essentially created its own system. Most children in Wyoming are prosecuted in adult courts with none of the protections and due process provided to children in traditional juvenile courts. As a result, children are jailed at one of the highest rates in the nation and youth that need treatment or counseling are offered none.

At the conclusion of his presentation, Judge Hartman offered draft statutes that would bring about much needed reforms to the juvenile system. Judge Hartman, Donna Sheen, a local children’s attorney and advocate, and Dr. Beth Evans, Chair of the State Advisory Committee, then answered a number of questions from the committee.

Prior to the committee meeting, the Wyoming ACLU provided the joint judiciary committee with its report, Inequality in the Equality State: The Damaged Juvenile Justice and Detention System in Wyoming. The report is a comprehensive report that includes the following policy recommendations for the Wyoming legislature:
To enact a juvenile code that:

1. Establishes a unified juvenile or family court system with exclusive jurisdiction for all non-traffic juvenile matters and a judiciary professionally trained in juvenile law.
2. Creates a comprehensive juvenile justice system that applies equally and fairly to all Wyoming juveniles. This system should include the procedural framework for a central juvenile case processing and obtain a consistent juvenile detention policy. This policy must be devoid of loopholes and include community based programs.
3. Creates a comprehensive juvenile justice system based on restorative justice principles that promote accountability and increased competency development for youthful offenders, without sacrificing community protection.
4. Provides systematic data collecting and analysis to guide decision making, assess program effectiveness, and provide assurances of equal treatment.
5. Is funded through a dedicated funding source to ensure its statewide accessibility and utilization.

The draft legislation presented by Judge Hartman addresses all these issues.

Wyoming judges, including the Honorable Norman Young, John Fenn and Randal Arp, made a short presentation agreeing there probably should be some changes, and that judges would do whatever legislators direct them to do.

County Prosecutors Jeannie Stone, Brian Christensen and Bryon Skoric testified there is absolutely nothing wrong with the juvenile system, and that programs were all running very well with excellent results. Prosecutors also alleged that statistics cited by the ACLU in a juvenile justice report released this spring are wrong.

Rather than focusing on the real issues about reforming our juvenile justice system, the only questions posed by legislators to the Wyoming ACLU were limited to the veracity of statistics cited in the report. Of course, as we have stated, the data in the report represents crime statistics from the attorney general’s office and federal monitoring reports – which in turn are based on numbers provided by Wyoming counties.

The State of Wyoming has no agency that collects comprehensive data on issues and programs relating to juvenile justice. There is no collection of data on county programs or on the effectiveness of the programs. There is no evidence-based assessment of programs or systems. If there is a problem with the numbers, it is one of underreporting -- several counties refuse to provide information on their treatment of juveniles.

It is very disheartening to have Wyoming’s future – our children – reduced to little more than questions about incomplete statistics. The lack of a uniform juvenile justice system is a long term problem that affects the lives and futures of our children.

In 2010, in cooperation with the National Center for Youth Law, we released a report based on our own observations of the treatment of juveniles in several court rooms in Wyoming, A Call to Stop Child Prosecutions in Wyoming Adult Courts. That report concluded:

The state of Wyoming stands at the threshold of opportunity. It can revise its juvenile code to create a model system of youth justice, or it can continue down the time-worn path it has been on for decades, meting out adult convictions and costly sentences to children who really just need a stronger guiding hand. The authors, and many others in the state working with children in trouble, urge the public to demand a better system of justice for Wyoming’s children. We hope public officials will finally exercise the political will to truly reform the way it’s always been.

As our legislators delay in effecting much-needed reforms in juvenile justice, justice to juveniles is denied.