ACLU of Wyoming Supports Funding Mental Health, Substance Use Diversion Programs

Affiliate: ACLU of Wyoming
February 24, 2020 4:15 pm

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Mental health and substance use diversion programs are an effective way to redirect people out of the criminal legal system and into supportive community treatment. Current diversion efforts in Wyoming, however, have proven ineffective because of a lack of adequate upfront funding.

That’s why the ACLU of Wyoming supports House Bill 31, legislation that would require the Department of Health and the Department of Corrections to collaborate to reduce criminal offender recidivism by improving mental health and substance use programming and funding. House lawmakers passed House Bill 31 last week. The ACLU of Wyoming urges the Senate to take up consideration of the bill as soon as possible.

“By targeting the underlying problems that led to the crime in the first place, effective diversion programs can improve long-term community safety and reduce recidivism far more effectively than warehousing someone in a prison cell before turning them back onto the streets,” said Sabrina King, director of campaigns for the ACLU of Wyoming.

Although House Bill 31 comes with a price tag – the Legislative Service Office estimates it would cost $648,760 to fund – diversion programs like this are cheaper and more effective than incarceration.

“When implemented effectively, diversion reduces arrests, encourages voluntary treatment in the community and saves money,” King said. “The critical piece of this bill is funding. We need our legislators to fund this effort for it to be effective.”

Expanding the use of mental health and substance use diversion programs is among the proposed reforms in the ACLU of Wyoming’s Blueprint for Smart Justice report. The report includes an overview of Wyoming’s incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars and why people are imprisoned for so long. It also offers a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs and progress toward a 50 percent decarceration goal.

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