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Letter to the editor: Examining Wyoming corrections

Posted: Wednesday, Aug 21st, 2013

I read and reread Ms. Siegel’s editorial regarding prisons in Wednesday’s Telegram. As I understand it, an editorial is to encourage thought, ask hard questions and maybe even provoke some discussion. I guess that means it was effective.

However, had one of my students turned in such work, I would have to return it ungraded. The writing was clear, but I believe it contained too much unsupported opinion. Thoughts are stronger if supported by facts. Before resubmitting, I would ask her to do some research on the U.S. Constitution, its eighth Amendment, including relevant case law, as it applies to corrections.

She might consider a visit to a jail or prison (they are not the same). Speaking with the corrections professionals who work there, she would learn how they ensure a clean, secure environment for both staff and residents, and work to keep the community safe.

Next, I would have her do some research on crime rates and recidivism. She will find that Wyoming’s rates for both violent and nonviolent crimes are far lower than those rates in Texas. Actually, Wyoming has the second-lowest rate of recidivism in the entire country. She would also find that Wyoming’s incarceration rates are much lower than those of Texas.

These results indicate we must be doing something right. In her research, she would also find that there is no evidence that tougher sentencing or tougher corrections reduces re-offending … it actually can increase it. Adopting a Russian model for our American prisons may not be the way we want to go. Overly simple solutions to complex problems are rarely effective.

I’d also encourage Ms. Siegel to interview an inmate. I interact with both male and female offenders on a regular basis, and I’ve never heard any of them complain about prison being too “comfortable.” Some will tell you it has been good for them, but most, if you can take them at their word, would rather be anywhere else.

Also, each Wyoming Department of Corrections facility, including WMCI, has a Prison-Community Partnership Committee (PCPC). These are comprised of various community members who meet quarterly with corrections officials to discuss programs, goals, activities and concerns specific to the local facility. The meetings are open, and I know they would welcome her.

Finally, If Ms. Siegel is truly interested in knowing more about corrections history, philosophy, practices and operations, I would be very pleased to visit with her and maybe even enroll her in a criminal justice class. I can always find a spot for a bright, interested student!

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