UPDATE -- 12:58 P.M.:
LARAMIE, Wyo. -- Creating a consistent system to track juvenile justice statistics in Wyoming could cost $500,000, a policy adviser told state lawmakers.
However, the state needs the improved system if it is going to move forward with reforming the way the state prosecutes juveniles, Gary Hartman, an adviser to Gov. Matt Mead, told the Joint Judiciary Committee.
Hartman serves with a working group that Mead has asked to study juvenile justice issues and report back to the Legislature next year.
Mead previously said he wanted lawmakers to create a unified court system for juvenile offenders. He backed away from that proposal over the summer and instead asked for the working report from the group.
"I've known for some time that we have a deficiency in collecting data," Hartman said. "We have something like 27 agencies collecting data on juveniles, and we haven't been able to collate or integrate that at all."
The state needs accurate data so it can understand where problems exist and set appropriate polices, he said.
County prosecutors have voiced concerns about the prospect of creating a separate juvenile court system. Prosecutors and the Wyoming chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have presented conflicting figures on how many juveniles were jailed in the state, with prosecutors saying the ACLU had overstated the numbers.
Adrienne Freng, a University of Wyoming associate professor who studies juvenile justice issues, told lawmakers that counties along with state and federal agencies all calculate their data differently. She said that could lead to discrepancies.
Freng said there isn't a consistent approach to definitions, such as what constitutes an arrest versus a citation. Some counties and agencies differ on whether incarceration means a juvenile was sent to a treatment center.
Hartman said a statewide juvenile reporting system could be modeled after the Wyoming Criminal Justice Information System. That system was created seven years ago to allow local and state law enforcement agencies to track criminal records across different jurisdictions.
Several legislators on the committee said they support creating a better way to analyze the juvenile justice statistics.
Rep. Frank Peasley, R-Douglas, said the different information from various groups creates information overload.
"When you feed us this data, give us a shortcut to read it and understand it," Peasley told Hartman.
Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, who co-chairs the committee, said it is important to get impartial information.
"It's troublesome, and I know we are going to have to" create the data system, Brown said. "But how much money do we have to spend to tell the ACLU that it is wrong?"
Hartman said the working group is expected to recommend the best way to collect data and what definitions should be used when it issues its report to the Legislature next April.