Our criminal justice system is complicated, with judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys all trying to balance appropriate punishment, victims’ needs and opportunities for rehabilitation …
Our criminal justice system is complicated, with judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys all trying to balance appropriate punishment, victims’ needs and opportunities for rehabilitation within each sentence.
However, with the United States locking up a higher percentage of people than any other country in the world, lawmakers across the nation and in Wyoming have been looking at ways to change the system and focus on keeping only the truly dangerous and deserving in our prisons. Reducing the number of people behind bars is a worthwhile aim, reflected in the broad range of groups that support reform. Of course, the idea can be taken too far, because real harm can come when the wrong person is shown too much leniency.
That’s why we’re glad Wyoming legislators have taken a cautious, step-by-step approach to reforms.
For instance, the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee is considering a change to the way the state calculates prison sentences that just makes common sense.
The situation is this: When a person is sentenced to prison, he or she usually sits in the local jail for some time before being picked up by the Wyoming Department of Corrections.
Counterintuitively, the longer they have to wait, the longer their sentence becomes. That’s because the state allows those in prison to basically get one day off their sentence for every three days they’re compliant with the rules. It’s known as “good time” and is meant to incentivize prisoners to behave while they’re locked up.
However, inmates don’t receive any good time in jail.
As a result, “the individual that we’re able to pick up in one or two days immediately starts earning good time, but those that are delayed [in] being picked up because of bed space concerns, don’t get good time ... because they’re not [in] one of the facilities covered by statute,” Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Bob Lampert told the judiciary committee earlier this month. “So the question is basically, is that fair?”
The answer, in our minds, is “absolutely not.”
The online news outlet WyoFile reported that, according to department data, the average inmate must wait about 57 days between their sentencing and their ride to prison. By missing out on good time for two months, that wait has the effect of lengthening their sentence by nearly three weeks.
The knee-jerk reaction might be to call it a good thing that some inmates are spending a little extra time behind bars.
But we’d ask, where’s the justice in conditioning a person’s sentence on whenever the next DOC van happens to be heading to Cody or when a judge puts their signature on an order? Such arbitrary factors have no place alongside the serious considerations that go into a sentence, like the nature of the crime, the views of the victim and consistency with similar offenses.
After their sentencings, inmates should receive credit for every day they’re compliant, whether they’re in a county jail or a state prison.
In his remarks to the judiciary committee, Lampert also suggested giving inmates good time for every single day they’ve served in custody for an offense — including the time before they were sentenced. However, lawmakers should think hard before taking that step.
As things currently stand, guilty inmates facing serious criminal charges have an incentive to take a plea deal quickly, so they can begin serving prison time and receiving good time. If they’re going to receive that credit anyway, it just adds another reason to try dragging things out.
In our minds, it makes the most sense to reward those who accept responsibility for their actions.