Wyoming Liberty Group
The juvenile justice system in Wyoming is unique in the country. It would be pleasing to have a juvenile justice system unique due to its stellar qualities, but unfortunately, Wyoming stands alone based on its failure to achieve even the most basic expectations standard in juvenile justice systems in the rest of the country.
I intended this to be an upbeat resource-rich article highlighting success stories, strategies and promising new approaches to keep children out of the juvenile justice system. In the course of researching for this paper I certainly did find some promising trends and programs and I will mention them and explain why they offer exciting possibilities for Wyoming’s troubled youth.
Our introductory blog on this topic focused on the premises of graduate criminal justice fellow Brice Hamack’s recent article in the Wyoming Law Review. It is important to clarify that while Mr. Hamack’s general concerns are well founded, Wyoming’s juvenile justice system has uniquely entrenched problems unique from and, in many ways, worse than those in the rest of the country.
In the two years that Republic Free Choice has been investigating Wyoming’s juvenile justice system we have uncovered appalling details within the Wyoming system which juvenile justice advocates and even Wyoming legislators’ admit is failed and broken. Even the basic necessity of education for juvenile offenders during incarceration is a frequently overlooked issue.
A recent article in the Wyoming Law Review by graduate criminal justice fellow Brice Hamack from California’s Santa Clara University School of Law clearly defines how Wyoming’s juvenile justice practices are violating juveniles’ due process rights. Mr. Hamack weaves his well-referenced article with legal precedence, constitutional law and case law citations, repeatedly proving his case that many states are regularly violating the rights of juveniles with no apology and no consequences for the systems and authorities involved.
On April 3, 2014 the Wyoming Star Tribune ran a story entitled “Wyoming Guard program transforms teenagers” written by David Louis of the Rawlins Daily Times. It is a story about the Wyoming National Guard’s Cowboy ChalleNGe Academy located in Guernsey which works with at-risk Wyoming youth and, according to the story, transforms lives.
The health of a political system should be judged by how well the rights of people who lack the ability to express their own voice are being respected and protected. After all, it’s supposed to be “…liberty and justice for all” not “liberty and justice for registered voters with a loud enough voice or enough power to demand adequate representation”. We do not consider ourselves unreasonable people here in Wyoming and it would be unreasonable to expect school children to memorize that second phrase. Being reasonable people in a remarkable state it was shocking to discover the appalling state of the juvenile justice system in Wyoming.