By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Defendants in Campbell County’s courts are about six times more likely to go to a Wyoming prison than those in Teton County.
People sentenced out of Campbell County had the highest average prison count per capita from 2019-2021, according to a three-year average provided by the Wyoming Department of Corrections. About 0.49% of Campbell County’s 47,000 population (2020 census) was in prison on average during those three years.
That ratio held true Oct. 25, when a snapshot count revealed once again that Campbell had a higher percentage of its county in prison than any other – at 0.58%.
However, not all the people who make up the prison percentages are from Campbell County. The numbers refer to people who were sentenced to prison out of each county.
Scott Matheny, Campbell County Sheriff, attributed part of the difference – but not all – to having capable people on the right side of the law.
“We have some good judges and our law enforcement is top-notch,” said Matheny.
Matheny theorized that parole revocations could be another factor. Campbell, Laramie and Natrona counties all contain adult community corrections facilities, also known as halfway houses. In Campbell County, it’s the Volunteers of America Booth Hall.
“A lot of times we are responding to their facility and they’ll say, ‘You know what, we need to terminate this client from the VOA,’” said Matheny. “Then they (the offender) come here (to the jail) and then they go back to prison.”
Matheny said the energy-driven economy in his area has some related crime, such as thefts from oil fields, and copper wire thefts.
Sweetwater County, whose seat is Green River, had the second-highest percentage of people in the state’s corrections system. Neither the Sweetwater County sheriff nor county attorney returned calls for comment by publication time.
Treatment In Cheyenne
Laramie County also has a halfway house, the Cheyenne Transitional Center, but only 0.26% of the county’s 100,512 residents (2020 census) was in prison, on average, from 2019-2021. The percentage puts it below 12 of Wyoming’s 23 counties for percentage of inmates per county population.
However, Laramie County had the highest differential between state and prison population.
While the county made up about 17.4% of the state population during those three years, it sent the prison system just 14.1% of its total inmates.
Brian Kozak, Laramie County sheriff-elect and former Cheyenne police chief, told Cowboy State Daily that high-risk people have access to beneficial programs in the county, which may account for the lower percentages.
He said these programs help cut recidivism rates and prevent people from going to prison in the first place.
The Cheyenne Police Department has been working in collaboration with Cheyenne Regional Medical Center to divert offenders from the criminal justice system into social programs if they’re suffering from mental illness or drug addiction, said Kozak.
Cheyenne also is the first city in Wyoming to have the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD), which gives police officers the option to work with a case manager to send offenders to treatment instead of charging them with crimes.
“I know that has an effect on reducing the impact on our criminal justice system and sending people to prison,” Kozak said.
Jail Door Spinning
But Kozak said he hopes to improve treatment and counseling options even more.
“That’s a big part of my platform, to reform the jail,” he said. “Because right now there is no medical-based drug addiction treatment in the (Laramie County) jail system. We do want to launch that.”
The Laramie County Detention Facility houses people waiting for trial or sentencing, and people who have been convicted of misdemeanors.
Kozak said treatment in jail could prevent an influx in the prisons, which contain people who have been convicted of felonies. He also spoke in favor connecting offenders to community programs after they’re released from jail.
“Hopefully, we can slow down the jail door from spinning out of control like it is now,” he said.
Meth And Fentanyl
While Natrona County made up 13.9% of the state, its sentenced convicts accounted for about 18.6% of Wyoming’s prisons population from 2019-2021.
It’s the highest difference of any county in Wyoming, even though Natrona had less of its county population in prison (0.44%) than Campbell County (0.49%) during those three years.
Casper Police Department Lt. Scott Jones said the factors are complicated.
Methamphetamine- and fentanyl-related crimes are “through the roof” in the Casper area, he said, which drives nearly every other kind of crime occurrence up.
“My department is inundated with calls for service and (of) crimes that can be related to those types of things,” said Jones.
Like Campbell and Laramie counties, Natrona has a halfway house, the Casper Reentry Center. Jones said that could account for some of the higher prison percentage.
In the county seat of Casper, there’s also a sizeable homeless population.
“Our homeless population in Natrona County has skyrocketed,” said Jones, noting that “99.99% of the contacts (with homeless people) are positive.
“But we also know that we have a tremendous number of contacts (who are) mentally ill folks who probably need some focused, concentrated access to treatment,” said Jones.
Substance abuse in the homeless population is “very high,” he added.
Many of the people on the streets came to Casper from out of town; some came from out of state.
“Why that is, I don’t know,” Jones said.
The community and police still are scrambling to address all the needs, he said.
Meanwhile, In Jackson
Teton County had the lowest percentage of its county population in prison from 2019-2021.
On average, 0.08% of the county’s 23,331 people was in prison over the three years.
Teton also had the second-highest differential between state and prison representation.
That is, while the county makes up 4% of the state’s population, it makes up just less than 1% of the prison population. The only county with a larger positive difference between state and prison population was Laramie County.
Teton County prosecuting attorney Erin Weisman did not respond Monday to an emailed request for comment.
Sgt. Clayton Platt of the Teton County Sheriff’s Office said the region has all the same types of crimes found in other parts of Wyoming. While the frequency of those crimes may be less, Platt said there are so many tiers of influence between investigation and sentencing – including attorneys’ strategies and judges’ preferences – that it’s difficult to attribute the county’s low prison representation to specific factors.
Money Isn’t Everything
Teton is Wyoming’s most affluent county, with an average income of $141,605 per year, according to Wyoming’s Administration and Information Department.
But money isn’t the ultimate factor in deciding prison ratios: Niobrara County is the state’s poorest with an average annual income of $59,620 – but Niobrara rivalled Teton for low prison ratios.
About 0.09% of Niobrara’s population was in prison from 2019-2021. That was the second-lowest ratio after Teton County.
Niobrara also has more representation in the state than behind bars. While its tiny population of 2,467 made up 0.4% of the state’s population, it had just 0.1% of the prison system’s total population during those three years.
Though the numbers from the Department of Corrections show quantities in the state’s prisons, figures for federal prison statistics by county were not immediately available Monday.
Fremont County could have a higher overall prison count than the other Wyoming counties because a large swath of its land falls under federal jurisdiction. Offenders on that land are likely to go to federal prison depending on the circumstances of each case.
Below are the year-end average percentages and prison and county populations for each county from 2019-2021. The data includes combined numbers from Wyoming Department of Correction’s five facilities: the Wyoming State Penitentiary, Wyoming Women’s Center, Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution, Wyoming Honor Farm and Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp and Boot Camp.
|County||Percentage in prison||Population of County (2020)||Population in Prison (average 2019-2021)|