Boot Camp

Morgan Knight works the reception desk last year at the Honor Conservation camp in Newcastle where the Wyoming Boot Camp program is located.

File, Star-Tribune

It’s encouraging to hear that a young Wyoming woman was sent to boot camp rather than prison for a chance to rehabilitate her life. However, the state must continue to address the more fundamental problem of why she had to be sent to Florida while her male counterparts can complete the program in Newcastle.

Taylor Blanchard was the first woman in the state to be recommended for the boot camp program, which allows offenders under 25 the chance to complete a stint of manual labor and rehabilitation in exchange for the opportunity to ask for a reduced sentence.

For these young adults, that opportunity could make an immense difference. Blanchard, for example, could have faced six to 10 years in prison with no opportunity to complete boot camp to shorten the sentence. Men in the same position, however, would have been allowed to complete the program and unlock that option.

Because of the disparity, Blanchard sued the director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections and the Wyoming Women’s Center warden, accusing them of violating her civil rights. Eventually, she was sent to a boot camp program in Ocala, Florida, where she will serve a shorter term than she would have in Wyoming. That’s not the right answer, though, her lawyers say, because the abbreviated stint limits her chances at rehabilitation – the whole point of the program.

That may well be true. But in the short term, sending Blanchard to Florida to complete a boot camp program was the right thing to do. She now has an opportunity that prison would not have afforded her: to reclaim and rehabilitate her life because less of it might be spent in prison.

But now, the state is asking a judge to dismiss her class action suit, and in the long term, that absolutely should not happen. Without the lawsuit’s prodding, why would anyone expect that meaningful change will ever take place?

Wyoming is no closer to addressing the fundamental disparity here than it was this summer – and it must do so. Women who are eligible for boot camp should have the same access to it that their male counterparts do, and it’s the state’s responsibility to address that inequality without delay.

Blanchard’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of any women who might be recommended for the program in the future and those who would have been eligible for it if they were men. It’s terrible to think that there are likely Wyoming women in the corrections system right now who would have been eligible for the potentially life-altering option of boot camp, if only they had been born boys.

Yes, it was better to dispatch Blanchard to Florida than to prison. But the state must believe it’s better for boot camp participants to serve the time in their home state, or it wouldn’t have set up its program for men in that way. This means that sending Blanchard far from home, away from her support network, to rebuild her life represents a second-class accommodation.

Offenders in Wyoming – whether they’re male or female – must have the same opportunities in the criminal justice system. That disparity must be addressed in a systemic way before the lawsuit is dismissed.

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