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Wyoming’s Joint Judiciary Interim Committee considers juvenile justice to be its top priority for this session. 

Opinion

In its last meeting in September, committee members reiterated their commitment to juvenile justice and voted to consider a data collection bill at their October session. This bill draft marks an important first step in improving Wyoming’s juvenile justice system. 

Historically, Wyoming’s fragmented juvenile justice system has made it impossible to achieve data standardization and collection across the state, creating negative downstream consequences for our understanding of the juvenile justice system here. A data collection bill is imperative for the state to begin making headway to improve the juvenile justice system, and the committee’s data bill is a good place to start. 

The data bill will provide the opportunity to improve comprehensive data collection from all counties across the state, and to house and maintain the data in a centralized location. In turn, this data will help us to assess the state of Wyoming’s juvenile justice system and identify system strengths and areas for improvement. Access to consistent data from across the state will help ensure that all juveniles are treated fairly and equitably, regardless of youths’ backgrounds and where they live. 

Standardized data collection will allow for a comprehensive assessment of the juvenile justice system, including which interventions are most successful at reducing youth recidivism, improving youth outcomes and potentially saving taxpayer dollars. 

Currently, the state of Wyoming spends about $85,000 per child per year for confinement, yet we have no evidence suggesting the current practices are working. Data collection could inform current reform efforts, such as a structured decision-making tool for judges considering placing youths out of their homes, and could provide valuable information on what programs currently being implemented are working for the people of Wyoming. 

Making data collection a priority would allow for better policy decisions, a more equitable system for Wyoming youth and would likely save the state’s taxpayers millions of dollars. Obtaining this data would not only shed light on the negative aspects of Wyoming’s juvenile justice system but would also spotlight where the system is succeeding. 

While the committee’s draft has many strengths, a few simple changes could strengthen the bill. For instance, advocacy groups, scholars and other stakeholders could benefit greatly from access to de-identified data. This data would allow us to answer many questions about juvenile justice in Wyoming and help us to dedicate resources where they are really needed. 

Please contact your senator or representative to encourage them to pass this important data collection bill.

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