Monday, October 31, 2011

Getting the Numbers Straight...

In 2011, the ACLU of Wyoming released a report, "Inequality in the Equality State: The Damaged Juvenile Justice and Detention System in Wyoming." Unfortunately, the response to our report by Wyoming lawmakers and prosecutors has been to try and “kill the messenger.” Some have attempted to undermine the conclusions drawn in "Inequality" by questioning the data provided within the report. In fact, during a public hearing one Wyoming lawmaker recently asked, "How much money do we have to spend to tell the ACLU that it is wrong?"

Let’s be abundantly clear: None of the data in our report was researched, collected or documented by the ACLU. All data included came from the most current data available from the Wyoming Attorney General’s office and the Department of Justice. Executive Director Linda Burt recently wrote a letter to the Casper Star Tribune and to the Joint Judiciary Committee to emphasize this point.

The dispute over the data does little more than provide evidence for the need of a statewide data collection system; one of the key proposals made by our report. Moreover, reports dating back 40 years have leveled the same type of criticism about Wyoming’s juvenile justice system as our report.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released a new report entitled, "No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration." Their report provides convincing evidence that incarceration of juveniles is not only ineffective, but often the source of additional dysfunction and criminality in youth. "No Place for Kids" includes the most recent data showing the Wyoming continues to have one of the highest rates of juvenile confinement in the nation.

Sadly, Governor Mead recently announced that it is doubtful that his office will propose any kind of legislation for the 2012 session on how the state should handle juvenile offenders. Read more from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle who recently wrote an article highlighting the importance of this issue.

The problem is not the numbers; it is the system itself. The juvenile justice system in Wyoming has been, and continues to be, a system that is inherently flawed and incapable of providing the most effective outcomes for both children and our community. It is tragic that legislators and public officials are using data as a smokescreen to cover up their lack of attention to this vitally important issue.