- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Austin Ideen took part in a violent, drunken home invasion and assault in Casper.

That night, Ideen, then 18, and another man, Jordan Flock, kicked in the door to an apartment, burst in and threatened a man inside with a shotgun.

Each was arrested the following day, Oct. 19, 2012. Although both men had bandannas over their faces, the victim had apparently recognized Flock from a fight over a girl the night before.

Roughly six months later, in April 2013, Ideen was sentenced for his role in the crime. As part of a plea agreement, he was given three years of supervised probation by Natrona County District Court Judge Thomas Sullins.

Then, in March, more than a year after the assault, Ideen was sent to prison for two-and-a-half to four years for his role in the 2012 crime.

That sentence, however, was imposed only after Ideen, now 19, was convicted of a DUI and failed six drug and alcohol screenings, including multiple positive urine tests for marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine and meth.

How was it that Ideen had seven serious drug- and alcohol-related violations before being sent to prison, when any one of those could have been enough to revoke his probation?

“We didn’t get the information we should have got to make that decision,” Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigen told the Casper Star-Tribune (https://bit.ly/1mbCKrV). “It’s something we’re working on constantly. In a big system, sometimes that happens. . It should not.”

Dawn Sides, who oversees the field services division of the Department of Corrections, which administers probation and parole programs, said that she had heard about Ideen’s case and that it is not the norm.

“We continued to try to work to try to get him into treatment,” she said. “(His probation) could have been revoked earlier.”

On a given day in Wyoming, there are roughly 5,400 people on supervised probation, more than double the state’s prison population, according to statistics provided by the state Department of Corrections.

The field services office of that department oversees those roughly 5,400 people - a number that changes daily - and has 116 agents who directly monitor those on supervised probation and also people on parole, which is handled differently than probation.

That means that on average, each of those agents is assigned roughly 50 people on supervised probation, with parolees bringing the number up to around 60 or 70 people per agent, according to Sides. The number also varies from city to city across Wyoming.

In Casper, 24 probation and parole agents manage the cases of 1,200 to 1,400 people. Those numbers are just about in line with state averages, according to the data from Sides and Casper District Manager Scott Wonser.

For someone’s probation to come up for a revocation hearing, which occur frequently in Natrona County Circuit Court and District Court, the supervising agent must file a report with the district attorney’s office, which can then bring the case back to court.

With Ideen, Sullins imposed a strict sentence after Ideen’s repeated drug test failures. Though Ideen’s attorney argued that the 19-year-old should be placed in boot camp, a program aimed at rehabilitating youthful offenders, Sullins rejected that plea and sent Ideen to prison.

Sides, who oversees probation and parole for the state, said that the decision to file a report to potentially initiate the revocation process often comes down to the guidelines established by local prosecutors.

She said agents are directed to consider public safety as the leading factor.

She also said that by putting people on probation rather than sending them to prison or jail, the state saves money and works toward reintroducing past offenders as law-abiding members of society.

Blonigen said he is concerned that of the 5,400 or so people on supervised probation in the state, about one-third are on minimum supervision, meaning that all those people have to do is file one report each month with the probation office.

“Those might as well be on unsupervised probation,” Blonigen said.

He said the number particularly concerned him when it comes to people with substance abuse issues.

“Probation has to be hands-on,” he said. “The goal generally is to do something short of the penitentiary that will change their behavior.”

Blonigen also said there is a “constant tension” between the goal of rehabilitating people and giving them treatment versus punishing them for breaking the law.

Sides said that while her agents are “very busy,” the state’s low population allows for a more hands-on approach that lets workers build rapport and trust with the people they supervise.

That contributes to a recidivism rate that is among the nation’s lowest, according to Sides.

For example, through 2013, 51.8 percent of people in the state sentenced to probation for misdemeanor charges had completed their probation and gone three additional years with no contact with law enforcement.

For felonies, that number jumps to 60.9 percent, according to Sides, making Wyoming the second-most successful state at warding off recidivism.

Barbara Rodriguez, of Casper, is five months into one year of supervised probation for a misdemeanor conviction earlier this year.

Rodriguez has stage-three colon cancer and was arrested by a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer last year for bringing marijuana into Wyoming from Colorado.

In recent months, Rodriguez has been an outspoken critic to the Star-Tribune about how she was treated in the Natrona County Detention Center, specifically saying the workers there did not allow her to properly take her cancer medication.

Talking about probation, however, Rodriguez, 56, said she views it as a well-run system.

“I’m trying to get healthy,” Rodriguez said. “You just have to do what they say, and they leave you alone.”

___

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

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