Mental health and substance use diversion programs are an effective way to redirect people out of the criminal legal system and into supportive community treatment. Current diversion efforts in Wyoming, however, have proven ineffective because of a lack of adequate upfront funding.
That’s why the ACLU of Wyoming supports House Bill 31, legislation that would require the Department of Health and the Department of Corrections to collaborate to reduce criminal offender recidivism by improving mental health and substance use programming and funding. House lawmakers passed House Bill 31 last week. The ACLU of Wyoming urges the Senate to take up consideration of the bill as soon as possible.
“By targeting the underlying problems that led to the crime in the first place, effective diversion programs can improve long-term community safety and reduce recidivism far more effectively than warehousing someone in a prison cell before turning them back onto the streets,” said Sabrina King, director of campaigns for the ACLU of Wyoming.
Although House Bill 31 comes with a price tag – the Legislative Service Office estimates it would cost $648,760 to fund – diversion programs like this are cheaper and more effective than incarceration.
“When implemented effectively, diversion reduces arrests, encourages voluntary treatment in the community and saves money,” King said. “The critical piece of this bill is funding. We need our legislators to fund this effort for it to be effective.”
Expanding the use of mental health and substance use diversion programs is among the proposed reforms in the ACLU of Wyoming’s Blueprint for Smart Justice report. The report includes an overview of Wyoming’s incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars and why people are imprisoned for so long. It also offers a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs and progress toward a 50 percent decarceration goal.
About the ACLU of Wyoming
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of Wyoming is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and South Dakota. The team in Wyoming is supported by staff in those states.
The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people. In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBT communities. The ACLU of Wyoming carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of Wyoming.