It is rare that a citizen calls the governor to say, “You know, I just wanted to let you know what a great job those state employees are doing!” No legislator ever LOST votes by beating up on an agency or its employees. Accordingly, I could not last week’s good news go unnoticed.
Having been a part of the hard work of state government to address the problems of crime and addiction these last eight years, I found some of last week’s news exceptional. We learned from a national study Wyoming has the next to the lowest rate in the nation of criminal offenders returning to prison. Wyoming’s rate of recidivism for offenders who were released in 2004 and rearrested, re-convicted or returned to prison by 2007 was 24.8 percent. Only Oregon at 22.8 percent had a lower rate than Wyoming. The national average is over 40%.The Wyoming Department of Corrections has some of the most enlightened leadership of any state corrections agency in the nation. DOC Director Bob Lampert and his deputy Steve Lindly have been visionary in their approach to corrections reform. They understand prison sentences alone do not cure addiction nor do they change criminal behavior. They have employed research-based practices to improve rehabilitation services for inmates.
People may like the idea of harsher, mandatory, lengthy sentences but they don’t like to pay what it costs. Nor do they benefit from higher rates of recidivism which serve only to threaten public safety. Director Lampert and his staff have given communities a reason for a “spring of hope.”
They understand DOC cannot do it alone and that success in their business requires successes in the jurisdiction of other state agencies ranging from education, to juvenile justice and child welfare, to job training and health. Lampert and Lindly and other DOC staff have been partners with several state agencies and the courts to assure quality services through intensive supervised probation and community mental health centers.
Bob and Steve have been faithful partners in continuing work to expand and improve the state’s effective drug court program. Bob has served as chair of the Governor’s Advisory Board on Substance Abuse and Violent Crime. Under his leadership that Board has made significant contributions as strong advocates for improved outcomes. Lampert has chaired the effective work of the Wyoming Health Information Network in integrating agency data so that policymakers are enabled to see not just their part of the world but the outcomes achieved from the work of multiple agencies. In that position Bob has led the way in pioneering effective multi-agency programs to improve the lives of citizens of the state.
The results of the recidivism study demonstrate the success of their work. Like everything else from reducing child abuse and other crimes, to improving the high school graduation rates, criminal recidivism rates are the product of integrated efforts. No single agency can do it alone because the problems are fundamentally systemic in nature. But the necessary collaboration is counter-cultural in government at any level. That is where Wyoming has indeed benefited from the leadership at the Wyoming Department of Corrections.