Fremont County sends disproportionate number of Native Americans to prison; prosecutor says poverty is the cause

Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Corrections show a disproportionate number of Native American people have been sentenced to prison annually in Fremont County over the past 10 years.

In 2021, for example, 41 percent of the 168 people sentenced to prison in Fremont County were Native American, the WDOC said – but that same year, people identifying as American Indian and Alaska Native made up 24 percent of the Fremont County population of 39,434, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2020, the numbers were similar: The WDOC reported that 43 percent of the 160 people sentenced to prison in Fremont County that year were Native American, while the Census Bureau said 24 percent of the local population identified as American Indian and Alaska Native.

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The trend continues going back at least a decade, with the proportion of Native American people sentenced to prison in Fremont County ranging between 34 percent and 43 percent, while people identifying as American Indian and Alaska Native in Fremont County make up between 23 percent and 24 percent of the local population.

h/t Wyoming Department of Corrections and U.S. Census Bureau

White people

For white people, the numbers are essentially reversed.

In 2021, for example, the WDOC said 51 percent of people sentenced to prison in Fremont County were white, while that same year, the Census Bureau said people identifying as white made up 77 percent of the local population.

In 2020, the WDOC said 48 percent of people sentenced to prison in Fremont County were white, while that same year, the Census Bureau said people identifying as white still made up 77 percent of the local population.

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Again, the trend continues going back at least a decade, with the proportion of white people sentenced to prison in Fremont County ranging between 48 percent and 55 percent, while the proportion of people identifying as white in Fremont County ranges between 76 percent and 77 percent.

h/t Wyoming Department of Corrections and U.S. Census Bureau

For 2022, the WDOC said 45 percent of the 187 people sentenced to prison through July 31 in Fremont County were Native American, while 48 percent were white.

Poverty

Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun said the disproportionate numbers are “based on poverty.”

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“Poverty is not an excuse to commit crime,” he noted. “But you will see, across the board, demographics that have a higher poverty rate have higher rates of crime. … And the Native American population of Fremont County unfortunately has a high rate of poverty.”

In 2020, more than 26 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native people in Fremont County lived under the poverty level, compared to 10 percent of white people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The numbers remain relatively stable for both groups going back at least a decade, with 20 percent to 28 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native people in Fremont County living under the poverty level during that timeframe, compared to 9 percent to 13 percent of white people.

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As a result, LeBrun said, “we see a higher proportion of Native Americans in the system than there should be.”

“The reason is simple,” he said. “The solution is not.”

Other groups

The WDOC also tracks data for people of Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander descent.

The proportion of Black people sentenced to prison in Fremont County over the past decade ranges between 1 percent and 3 percent, while the population of people identifying as Black ranges between .6 percent and .9 percent.

The proportion of Pacific Islanders sentenced to prison in Fremont County over the past decade ranges between .6 percent and .9 percent, while the population of people identifying as Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander ranges between .1 percent and .5 percent.

The proportion of Asian people sentenced to prison in Fremont County over the past decade ranges between 0 percent and .8 percent, according to the WDOC, while the population of people identifying as Asian ranges between .3 percent and .9 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The proportion of Hispanic people sentenced to prison in Fremont County over the past decade ranges between 5 percent and 8 percent, while the population of people identifying as Hispanic ranges between 6 percent and 8 percent.

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