A program to allow judges to mandate substance abuse treatment instead of jail time for drug offenders received final approval by the Wyoming House of Representatives on Tuesday.
House Bill 94 provides funding to support more drug courts. Proponents of the bill say the approach will save the state money overall by reducing prison costs.
Court mandated substance abuse treatment is already an option in Wyoming, but Thermopolis Representative Nathan Winters said there’s been an uneven application of this program.
“Some judges had used it quite successfully. Some judges hardly ever touched it. And it was primarily because there wasn’t a precedent within their community,” said Winters.
This legislation would provide funding and guidance for a more uniform approach to such programs, which proponents said would help get people services sooner. But opponents caution that reforms have not been fully worked out.
Laramie Representative Charles Pelkey agreed the bill isn’t perfect, but said it’s a step in the right direction. Gillette Representative Scott Clem characterized opponents’ reluctance to move forward on this bill as similar to an addict’s.
“Instead of taking the courageous step to go out and to try to help themselves, they just keep on doing what they do, because it feels good. And it might feel good for this body to just keep on doing what they are doing,” said Clem.
“We’ll put people in prison, we will let them dry out, and we’ll hope and pray they reform their lives but we’re just feeding the beast. And I think we have to take a step and be courageous.”
The bill passed the house 31 to 26, and now moves to the Senate for review.