Scales of justice

Casper’s state lawmakers are divided on instituting a Wyoming women’s boot camp in light of a federal court case brought against the state and a nonprofit’s report recommending the institution of a new facility.

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a report last week stating that one in every 130 Wyoming residents is incarcerated and that the rate of incarceration in the state has steadily grown for most of the past two decades. The report suggests that the high rate of incarceration is expensive and unnecessary. As a partial solution, the nonprofit recommended opening a women’s boot camp, which would allow young inmates to ask judges for sentence reductions if they successfully complete the program. Wyoming only operates a men’s facility.

Meanwhile, the director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections is facing a federal lawsuit from a female inmate who says prison officials violated her constitutional rights by only operating the men’s camp. One of the woman’s attorneys in the case is an ACLU lawyer.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers have asked for equal treatment of men and women in light of the boot camp program. To do so, the state would have to operate boot camps for inmates of both genders, send inmates of both genders to boot camps out of state or abolish the program altogether.

State Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, said he would prefer for the state to eliminate the boot camp program altogether, rather than institute a women’s camp if the courts called for changes that would equalize access to the program in Wyoming. He said a low rate of participation in the program limited its efficacy.

State Rep. Joe MacGuire, R-Casper, said he had not reviewed the report but he was skeptical of the organization’s politics. He said he thought the men’s boot camp can be very effective but that he did not think it was feasible to create a women’s boot camp given the state of Wyoming’s finances. Instead, MacGuire said, women who qualify for a boot camp program should be sent to out-of-state camps.

State Rep. Debbie Bovee, R-Casper, said she supports creating a woman’s boot camp program because she expects the up-front costs would be offset by lower recidivism and less imprisonment.

“I think it would save us money in the long run,” Bovee said. “Where we’re gonna get that money, I’m not sure.”

Linda Burt, a former ACLU lobbyist and 2016 Democratic state legislature candidate, said the boot camp program is necessitated due to heavy cuts to substance-use treatment program funding. Burt said the vast majority of prison inmates qualify for treatment options that are unavailable to them and boot camps are one of the few alternatives available to those offenders.

In addition to the organization’s recommendation to institute a boot camp, the report also suggests a moratorium on creating new crimes and a reduction in pre-sentence incarceration.

Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson

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Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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