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Governor requests $500K for added data collection on juvenile offenders

Dec 6, 2013 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- Gov. Matt Mead is asking state lawmakers to budget $500,000 for a system that would allow officials to track information about juvenile offenders in the state.

Tony Young, Mead's deputy chief of staff, said Thursday that the money would cover installation of the system to track data about young offenders at the five juvenile detention centers in the state, as well as the Wyoming Boys School and Wyoming Girls School.

The state has struggled for years with getting solid data about juvenile offenders, including how often they're arrested, what they're arrested for and whether they're treated differently in different counties.

"We've got a mobile society," Young said. "So if you've got somebody who has issues or problems in Natrona County and they move to Cheyenne, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing."

Young said Natrona County already is using the tracking system, which he said was developed by a Laramie-based company, Handel Information Technologies Inc.

Mead, himself a former state and federal prosecutor, last year abruptly halted the work of the State Advisory Council on Juvenile Justice. He said he wanted to increase the participation of prosecutors and judges who work with juvenile criminal cases.

Mead also said he wanted to curtail the involvement of groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union that have been pressing to see Wyoming create a separate court system to handle juvenile criminal cases.

Linda Burt, director of the ACLU in Wyoming, declined to comment on Mead's funding request.

Wyoming county attorneys and district attorneys currently have great discretion on whether and how to charge juvenile offenders.

Young said Mead doesn't support the prospect of creating a separate juvenile court system. In addition to the great expense that would be involved, Young said the governor doesn't believe the current system is broken.

Shad Bates, chairman of the State Advisory Council on Juvenile Justice, said data collection in Wyoming takes place in pockets, and different cities often keep track of different information about young offenders.

"Good data can drive programs and policies, and in the absence of that, it's kind of like grabbing a bucket of mud and throwing it on the wall and seeing what sticks with juveniles," said Bates, a former juvenile probation officer who now works in a youth treatment program.

The Legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee voted last month against endorsing the funding for the tracking program. Mead is pushing the funding as an item in the budget recommendations he's set to present to lawmakers Monday.

Rep. Keith Gingery, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the state has made a lot of progress on juvenile justice issues in recent years, including building juvenile detention facilities.

"We've actually accomplished a lot, and I think the idea that there's a problem, or major problem with juvenile justice, I think is wrong," said Gingery, R-Jackson. "We've actually resolved a lot of the issues."

Gingery said the state needs to get the data issue resolved before it keeps pouring money into the system.

He said, however, that in order for the Legislature to approve the $500,000 funding request, Mead will have to present a clear implementation plan, including how much of the state the system will cover and what information it will collect.

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