CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming should establish a unified juvenile court system and a data collection process that measures the state’s success in rehabilitating young people, according to report released Friday by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The state needs to develop a juvenile justice system that doesn’t subject young offenders to differing treatment depending on where they live, the report states.
The report, released by the ACLU’s Wyoming chapter, criticizes the state for taking a county-by-county approach to juvenile justice. It also argues that processing juveniles through adult courts contributes to Wyoming’s high child incarceration rate.
A dedicated juvenile court system would be better suited to dealing with young offenders, the report concludes.
“Such a system would provide Wyoming officials with a clearer and more uniform way of dealing with court-involved youth, and would ensure that all young people have access to the same rehabilitative opportunities and legal protections, regardless of where they live,” the report states.
Advocates of a unified juvenile court system say it would help to ensure that only high-risk juveniles are held in detention. The state has been criticized for detaining juveniles for minor offenses when they might be better served in diversionary programs.
Juvenile courts also provide young people with more protections and anonymity, said Linda Burt, executive director of ACLU of Wyoming.
The ACLU estimates that 10 to 15 percent of young Wyoming offenders appear in juvenile court. The remainder are processed through adult courts.
The ACLU will send its report to members of the state Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee, which is slated to study juvenile justice issues.
Another recent report on Wyoming’s juvenile justice system found that more counties are complying with federal guidelines that discourage locking up juveniles for minor offenses. Burt acknowledged Wyoming has made some progress but said the state hasn’t done enough to address problems with its system.
“As long as we don’t have a uniform system, where the judges are the best-qualified judges for (handling) children, we are not going to make the headway we should,” she said.