Matt Mead, Wyoming's outgoing governor, told the Star-Tribune on Wednesday the state will need to build more prisons to account for its growing inmate population.
Available beds in Wyoming's prisons have diminished in recent years as the facilities suffered from budget cuts, understaffing and dilapidated facilities.
Meanwhile, Wyoming judges have increased the rate at which people are incarcerated. In 2010, 374 of every 100,000 Wyomingites were behind bars. Six years later, 405 Wyomingites per 100,000 were in state prison custody at the year’s end.
As a result, the Department of Corrections has had to house convicted people in facilities other than its prisons. Eighty-eight prisoners were sent to a private Mississippi prison earlier this year. Dozens of people are serving prison sentences in county jails, which offer fewer rehabilitative options than prisons and would more typically be reserved for people serving shorter sentences or awaiting trial or sentencing.
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Mead said he considers shipping inmates out of state a "short-term fix." The governor, speaking generally, said he is concerned there is less available rehabilitative programming available at prisons outside of Wyoming and that those who leave the state might learn "gang behavior down in a big city."
"I think the answer is, we are going to need more prisons," Mead said. "And they adjust as the population grows."
The governor, who once worked as a prosecutor, said he does not think the increased incarceration rate could be attributed to overly aggressive prosecutors, and he said Wyoming's prosecutors charge crimes appropriately. He did not take a stance on another legislative attempt at criminal justice reform that aims to reduce recidivism alongside incarceration costs.
He went on to say that diversionary programs could also help ease the corrections housing crunch. The governor, whose term ends in the new year, said building a model akin to youth diversion programs already prevalent in Wyoming should also be considered.
Acknowledging that drug courts have sometimes mixed results, Mead said the state should still consider expanding such alternative courts. He pointed to Cheyenne's veterans' court as an additional tool for judges and prosecutors to use in deterring crime.
"There's a cost associated with that that's hard to stomach," Mead said. "Having somebody come out of incarceration not having been reformed (is) a much greater cost."
Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson