Juvenile Justice Data Collection Bill Passes Legislature | national news
One of the first bills passed by the Wyoming Legislature this budget session is one that has been in the works for months: the Juvenile Justice Data Collection Measure.
Wyoming has one of the highest rates of juvenile incarceration in the country. But the lack of data makes it difficult to understand exactly what is going on. The lawyer hopes that the problem will be solved by the new legislation.
The Joint Judicial Committee of the Legislative Assembly sponsored the bill during the last interim session. Committee chair Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, called the measure “one of the most significant bills to come out of the interim.”
The main purpose of the bill is to enable “informed policy decisions,” which the committee was unable to do with so little data.
The group responsible for the most comprehensive data on the issue is the State Advisory Council on Juvenile Justice, which was formed in 1997 but only began collecting statistics on the subject in 2015. The council doesn’t even have data from every county.
The bill transfers responsibility for data collection from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations to the Department of Family Services. Family Services officials have previously testified that they are willing and able to take on the task.
Still, it will take time for the bill, if it becomes law, to paint a picture of Wyoming’s juvenile justice system.
The legislation also requires data on juvenile offenders to be retained beyond the age of 18 to enable “longitudinal analyzes of recidivism data”.
Experts believe that when children are confined or removed from their community at a young age, their likelihood of recidivism increases.
Korin Schmidt, director of the Department of Family Services, recently told the Senate Judiciary Committee that she was fine with developing community programs and providing “local programming through more data.”
Data collection was already an expectation before the bill was passed, but it was not happening. Democratic Rep. Laramie Karlee Provenza, a member of the Judiciary Committee, thinks it will be different this time because of the scrutiny of the subject.
“The public is aware that something is going on,” she said.
That said, the legislation does not contain any sanction or punishment for non-compliance.
The lack of data is more related to collection issues. There is no standardized statewide way in which miners enter the system, complicating the situation. Each county takes a slightly different approach as county prosecutors have options as to how to proceed with each case.
Even with the success of the bill, Provenza retains some skepticism.
“There’s a lot of good that can come out of it, but human nature is that we don’t do a good job of controlling ourselves,” she said.
Looking ahead, Provenza hopes the Joint Judiciary Committee will address the issue of solitary confinement of children in the system and examine the effectiveness of penalizing juvenile offenders with fines and fees.
Governor Mark Gordon must sign the legislation for it to become law. If he does not, the legislature can overrule him by a two-thirds vote.
Follow state political reporter Victoria Eavis on Twitter @Victoria_Eavis