- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Officials at the Wyoming Department of Corrections are warning that as more people are sentenced to state prisons, spare beds are becoming scarce.

The Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Interim Committee on Tuesday decided to sponsor a bill with reforms recommended by the Corrections Department, The Casper Star-Tribune reported (http://goo.gl/hMPNq ).

The reforms aim to reduce prison populations without adding new beds to the system. Among the recommendations are more drug rehab programs outside prison, giving more first-time, nonviolent offenders probation instead of hard time and offering inmates incentives to be released on good behavior.

The bill will be debated in the 2016 legislative session, which begins in February.

Some lawmakers see the proposed changes as being too lenient, handing many offenders a get-out-of-jail free card.

“This is a complete reversal of policy as it exists today,” said Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, before he voted against the bill.

The penitentiary reform bill comes as the state faces a projected budget shortfall of $600 million over the next three years, leading lawmakers to look at cutting costs, including in the prison system.

“The economic reality is we have to reprioritize,” said committee member Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie. “If some people are ideologically inclined to punish people rather than reform them, that’s all well and good. But there’s a price tag attached to that. We’ve got to look at what the price tags are.”

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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