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Wyoming prisons chief pushes for funding amid low staffing

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Inadequate staffing is a significant problem in Wyoming’s prison system, according to the state corrections chief.
Two facilities have “critically low” staffing as Wyoming’s inmate population keeps growing, Department of Corrections Director Bob Lampert told the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
Lampert testified as the committee met in Cheyenne to discuss priorities for an upcoming session devoted primarily to the 2021-2022 biennial state budget. The four-week session begins Feb. 10.
Lack of competitive pay, a rising inmate population and a decade of spending cuts have put the department in a difficult position, Lampert said.
Prison officials rely on overtime pay and relief staff from other facilities to avoid security risks, Lampert told lawmakers.
The department wants more prison space, but Gov. Mark Gordon has proposed slashing capital construction funding by two-thirds to address weak revenue from the struggling coal and natural gas industries.
Meanwhile, the department has 183 fewer positions than it did in 2010, even though offender numbers have gone up 12 percent, Lampert said.
He said problems are the worst at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins and the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk, both of which would “be on lockdown” most of the time if staff didn’t incur significant overtime.
Committee co-chairman Sen. Eli Bebout, a Republican from Riverton, pointed out that housing inmates outside Wyoming can be substantially cheaper than keeping them in state. Wyoming houses 88 inmates in Mississippi, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.
Lampert said inmates sent out of state get less treatment and are more prone to return to prison once released, bolstering the case for more prison space in Wyoming.
“We definitely need those alternatives to house our current population,” Lampert told lawmakers. “But it also highlights the need to reduce our prison population.”