Wyoming has the nation’s second-highest rate of children in custody, and nearly three quarters of those young people are being held for nonviolent offenses, says the annual Kids Count report, reported by the Casper (WY) Star-Tribune. The study shows Wyoming’s rate of detained and committed youth in custody at 334 per 100,000 children. Nationally, that figure stood at 125. Only South Dakota had a higher rate.
The numbers reflect the Cowboy State’s lack of alternatives to adult jail and juvenile detention centers for young offenders, experts say. As a result, Wyoming youth sometimes end up in jail for offenses like possessing cigarettes or running away from home. Wyoming is the only state that does not comply with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which sets federal rules for juvenile detention. Last month, Gov. Dave Freudenthal tapped District Judge Gary Hartman as a special advisor on juvenile justice issues, tasked with evaluating and improving the state’s system. Beth Evans, a consultant for the Wyoming County Commissioners Association’s Juvenile Justice Project, called the numbers atrocious. “We are spending a lot of money putting kids in secure detention,” she said. “Wouldn’t that money be better spent addressing their needs?”