Bill to improve juvenile justice data collection moves forward | 307 Politics

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A bill intended to spur widespread collection of juvenile justice data in Wyoming has won support from the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee.

Despite having the highest rate of incarcerated children in the nation, Wyoming has struggled for years with a lack of data on minors in the criminal justice system. The bill aims to fill these data gaps.

“I’m hopeful,” said Dr. Narina Nuñez, an executive with the State Advisory Council on Juvenile Justice and professor of psychology at the University of Wyoming. “We’ve been working on something like this for 25 years, and this is the farthest we’ve come.”

Judiciary committee grapples with lack of data on juvenile justice in Wyoming

The bill went through a few key changes before lawmakers voted to pass it.

Responsibility for data collection has been transferred from the Division of Criminal Investigations (DCI) – the agency that handled it in the past – to the Department of Family Services (DFS). This decision was championed by Nuñez and other proponents of improving data collection.

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Additionally, if enacted in its current form, the measure would not come into effect until July 2024, giving DFS time to gear up.

But potential pitfalls remain.

The bill does not provide a mechanism to compel entities to comply and submit adequate data. Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, signaled the committee could “give it some teeth” later. Nethercott did not respond to request for comment when asked what she had in mind.

Additionally, there is currently no funding attached to the bill, which is necessary and one of the major hurdles counties have faced in collecting and reporting data.

“They will absolutely need funding,” Nuñez said of the counties.

Without ownership, problems with state data collection are more likely to persist. Of course, if the bill is successfully introduced in the budget session, it will undergo the amendments.

“But I’m hopeful. I have good hope [the committee] going to find something,” Nuñez said. I think the bill looks really good and really promising.

The Department of Family Services spends about $1.16 million a year on juvenile community service boards, according to the department’s own figures. Councils advise officials on matters relating to juvenile services in a given county.

“The legislature just allocated $4 million to the state to sue the feds (in opposition to vaccination mandates),” Nuñez said. “We could fund the CJSBs for three years and we would have some change left over.”

The committee voted against sponsoring a second bill to reduce the number of confined youths in the state. The bill would have required a “structured decision-making process” to make out-of-home placements, instead of funneling minors into existing systems that can sometimes place them in situations that end up harming them further, testified Dr. Kayla Burd, an assistant professor of social cognition and law at the University of Wyoming.

Additionally, the bill would have raised the minimum age of engagement at the Wyoming Boys’ School or Girls’ School from 12 to 15.

Technically, the bill is not dead, but it would need a lawmaker to take it up as a personal bill during the February legislative session.

Follow state political reporter Victoria Eavis on Twitter @Victoria_Eavis

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