‘A different kind of support’: Wyoming Judicial Branch seeks funding for behavioral health services manager

    The Wyoming Judicial Branch’s 2025-2026 budget includes a request for more than $300,000 to hire a behavioral health services manager.

    The new employee would work with the state’s executive and legislative branches to continue addressing “the mental health crisis that’s happening in Wyoming,” state court administrator Elisa Butler told the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee during a meeting last week.

    The behavioral health services manager would also help transition the state’s treatment court program from the Wyoming Department of Health to the Judicial Branch by July 1, Butler said, then “assist with expanding that program, making it more robust, and ensuring that more people throughout the state are able to take advantage of treatment courts.”


    Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, pointed out that the new employee would also be involved in assessing the court diversion pilot program the state is conducting starting next month in Campbell County in an effort to keep more people with mental illnesses out of the criminal justice system.

    Based on the results of the pilot program, Larsen added, the behavioral health services manager would work “to develop (a) statewide system for that type of diversion.”

    Several communities in Wyoming are interested in implementing a mental health diversion program once the pilot project is completed, Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Kate Fox told the committee – in fact, some don’t want to wait that long.

    “Natrona County is chomping at the bit to start a diversion program, and they don’t really want to wait until we get the results back – they are just sure that it will be effective,” Fox said. “We have a lot of communities that are really anxious to get it going.”


    It’s Wyoming sheriffs who are “most enthusiastic” about the program, she added, “because their jails have become mental health institutions, and they don’t think that’s what they were designed to do.”

    “The truth is that the people in our courts and in the judicial system need a different kind of support than we have traditionally provided,” Fox said. “Those people are in our courts as a result of mental health and substance abuse. Whether we like it or not, the criminal justice system has become the primary referral source, the entry point, for many people to obtain the treatment that they need. …

    “Our traditional approach of finding a person guilty of a criminal offense, locking them up, and then turning them loose with exactly the same mental illness – or maybe a worse one – doesn’t work. (It) puts a great burden on the criminal justice system and gets the poorest possible results. So we therefore have to have the agility to change the way that we respond – and we’ve been doing that.”


    The “whole idea,” she continued, “is to save money – among other things – by avoiding the revolving door of incarceration and all the ripple effects of that.”

    “If you help someone become a productive citizen, keep their children, keep their job, keep their home, a lot better things happen for the state, even if you just want to talk about it in economic terms,” she said. “Ideally, these are money-saving (measures).”

    The Appropriations Committee will consider the Judicial Branch request as it works to develop a state budget proposal for 2025-2026 ahead of next year’s legislative session.


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