CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Department of Corrections could handle a 2 percent budget reduction but a 5 percent cut would mean shutting down programs like the 100-bed Casper re-entry treatment program. And, an 8 percent cut, Corrections Director Robert Lampert said Monday, would severely impact all of the state’s prison alternative programs.
Inmates who would normally go to local jails through the split-sentence program or to adult community alternatives program and the 100-bed Casper substance abuse program would go to prison, instead.
Lampert told the Joint Appropriations Committee on Monday that the alternative programs are less costly than to keep inmates in the state’s institutions at a cost of $150 per day.
The Joint Appropriations Committee has asked all state agencies to present the three scenarios detailing the effect of budget cuts of 2, 5 and 8 percent.
Other agency heads have given equally dire pictures of the impact of the deeper spending cuts. The committee is trying to curb state spending in the face of projected flat revenues, due largely to a decline in natural gas prices.
Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, the co-chairman of the Joint Appropriations Committee, noted the state has a commitment to maintain the Casper 100-bed facility for 10 years. The Casper program, authorized by the Legislature in 2005, treats male offenders in the last 18 months of a felony sentence for substance addiction. The offenders live in a secure environment around the clock and learn how to live clean and sober, Lambert said.
He said that while he doesn’t object to putting out a request for proposal for other contractors, he isn’t sure any other provider can offer 100 beds.
Nicholas said the argument could be made to keep the 100 beds in the state system. He asked Lampert for complete comparative figures on the daily costs of the treatment center versus prison.
Lampert said the state has 2,015 inmates in the system, 500 more than in 2004.
He expects to seek an increase for an addition to the medium-security prison at Torrington unless there is a decrease or leveling off of the prison population. Barring a drastic increase in the prison population, he said there is no foreseeable need for a new prison.
“We don’t want to be one of Wyoming’s growth industries,” he said.
The department is getting inmates with longer and longer sentences in line with the national trend. Wyoming also enhances, or adds to sentences, particularly for sex offenses involving children. Property crime and substance abuse crimes are the two types of crime driving the growth, he said.
“We should save our prison beds for people we’re afraid of and not those we’re mad at,” Lampert said.
He said this does not mean he is soft on crime. The fastest-growing inmate population is at the women’s center in Lusk, where 229 are housed but is staffed for only 210 women felons.
Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, noted that 66 percent of women inmates have psychiatric diagnoses.
“Is this the right place for us to be dealing with women with psychiatric problems?” Wallis said. “It really jumps out at me.”
Lampert said the Department of Corrections probably is the largest provider of mental health services in the state. The women either go without mental health services or self-medicate. They wind up in prison for property or substance abuse crimes.
The number of women inmates on psychotropic medications has dropped considerably since he became director in 2003, he said.
Gov. Matt Mead is recommending a budget of $311 million for the department for the 2013-14 biennium, a decrease of about $1 million from the current standard budget. He also is recommending 1,298 employees for the department.