Since 2000, the Department of Corrections (DOC) has spent more than $250 million to build two new prisons. It’s not enough. Amid one of the worst economic slumps in Wyoming history, the DOC is asking taxpayers for an additional $100 to $200 million to build new prison beds and repair the Penitentiary.
Wyoming doesn’t need more prison beds. A change in good time allowance by Gov. Matt Mead will enable the Parole Board to consider supervised release for people who are not a threat to public safety. Good time reduces a minimum sentence and may be earned through measurable, pro-social behavior such as rehabilitative and educational achievements.
To be certain, increasing good time will not automatically release anyone. Board members will still retain full discretion to grant or deny parole.
Wyoming leads the nation in how long a prisoner will be incarcerated. For example, on a 10-year sentence, a Wyoming offender will spend about 81 months incarcerated while the national average is 39.5 months.
Increasing good time will save taxpayers $50 million during the next three years; $27 million by avoiding construction of new beds and $23.2 million in corrections costs by supervising people on parole at $6.09 per day rather than incarcerating them in prison at $139.89 per day.
Releasing people earlier does not threaten public safety. A biennial report published by the Wyoming Parole Board shows people who are released early to supervised parole have a lower recidivism rate than those who spend more time in prison.
A common argument against early release is that justice will not be served. The answer to this is why the Parole Board exists. A fundamental concern of Board members is the impact a person’s release would have on the integrity of the criminal justice system. The Board has full authority to keep anyone in prison whose release would undermine a just sentence. Increasing good time will not alter the Board’s discretionary power.
During the past 10 years, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Washington and other states have increased good time with great success. These states have reduced prison populations, corrections costs, crime rates, offender recidivism and community victimization through early release. Gov. Mead has the power to create the same results.
If taxpayers want to save $50 million, reduce recidivism and community victimization, contact Gov. Mead and legislators and tell them to increase good time.