Wyoming legislative committee to discuss juvenile justice overhaul before next year's session

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Overhauling how Wyoming approaches crimes and other misbehavior by juveniles will be among a state legislative committee's top priorities leading up to next year's legislative session.

The Joint Judiciary Interim Committee in coming months plans to examine how Wyoming collects juvenile justice data and how to protect the confidentiality of juveniles' records. The committee also will discuss programs that attempt to divert youth away from behavior that gets them into trouble, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports (http://bit.ly/1C4mIcZ ).

Officials in Wyoming have been discussing juvenile justice changes for decades. Wyoming is among the vast majority of states where juvenile incarceration is declining.

It's good that lawmakers will be looking at these issues and might be able to make incremental reforms, said Donna Sheen, executive director of the Wyoming Children's Law Center.

"I think we have come to realize the system can't change all at once," she said. "So we have to take a look at what needs to change first to help us be ready for the next wave of changes."

One of the problems facing the state's juvenile justice system, she said, is each county has a different way of dealing with young offenders.

Accurate statewide data could offer insights into which approaches work best, she said.

"Data is needed to both know about the magnitude of the issue in each community and to know whether or not what communities are doing is having a positive impact," Sheen said.

The committee wants to examine which juvenile diversion programs have been most successful, said Co-chairman Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta.

"One of the things we've heard over and over is different communities feel like they've had a lot of successes, and they are not necessarily interested in a one-size-fits-all" solution, Christensen said. "So this is an opportunity to get that together and see which programs are working, and see if we can provide that information to communities looking for more tools."

The committee also plans to revisit two bills that failed to pass the recent legislative session.

One would have added confidentiality for juveniles during court proceedings. The other would have allowed juveniles' criminal records, except for violent felonies, in most cases to be automatically expunged when the person turns 18.

Currently, records are expunged only if the person petitions the court.

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com

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