Calling the so-called package of "justice reinvestment" bills a result of a sham commission controlled by the Governor with a pre-determined outcome and whose members were never given an opportunity to vote on final package, Attorney General Kilmartin is warning legislators and the Governor that passage of the bills would have devastating consequences on the criminal justice system, would fail to protect victims, and would fail to "reinvest" in justice.
"When the Governor first announced the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, its stated purpose was to 'identify new ways to relieve pressures on the correctional system and increase public safety.' The package of bills about to be voted on by the General Assembly does the exact opposite," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "It is nothing more than a red herring for proponents to feel good about themselves by believing that Rhode Island is moving forward with actual criminal justice reform. This legislation take no real or meaningful steps towards that goal. A true reinvestment would take any cost savings from one side and reinvest the money into programs that would keep people out of the criminal justice system to begin with and would protect victims' rights."
"There is no coordinated plan to achieve any costs savings, and there is no plan to reinvest any of the alleged savings. It is a classic political shell game that allows the Governor and legislative leaders to claim the compassionate flag. Sadly, they give little or no thought or consideration to victims or public safety."
The Attorney General also calls out the leadership of the General Assembly for horse trading at the expense of victims and constituent safety. On June 30th, the House Judiciary Committee amended several pieces of the justice reinvestment bills in recognition of the Attorney General's concerns. The amended bills were heading to the full House for a vote when the impasse between the two chambers abruptly ended the session.
This past Friday without additional testimony, the House Judiciary Committee posted the package of several bills for reconsideration which removed the language addressing the Attorney General's concerns.
"The House and Senate should be ashamed to trade favors and promises with legislation that has a very real impact on the daily lives of victims. When a constituent is assaulted with a deadly weapon, the Governor, Speaker and Senate President can explain the consequences of an inadequate justice system they created," added Kilmartin.
Attorney General Kilmartin noted his support of justice reinvestment when it is done when the interests of the victim and public safety are put first. "My office supports and already participates in several diversionary programs, working to redirect offenders who do not belong in jail into more suitable rehabilitative endeavors and providing them with the right resources they need to return to being productive members of their community. I fully support increasing pre-trial services to identify those with substance and mental health issues in an effort to steer them away from the criminal justice system. I believe in the power of these types of programs. These types of programs are truly justice reinvestment. That is not what the package of bills the Governor, Senate President and Speaker will accomplish. It is instead a deliberate dismantling of the criminal justice system a slap in the face to victims."
"I was also pleased to participate in and support the Judiciary's amendments to Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 32. These amendments were well thought out and carefully crafted to strike a just and necessary balance of victim rights, public safety and the defendant's rehabilitation in the community. The amendments provided a new motion for the termination of probation that provides a defendant the opportunity to terminate his or her probation, but also has victim rights and public safety protections. I believe these amendments will have an obvious and significant impact on reforming the probation system and provide relief to those currently on probation. While at the same time, these amendments have protected the public's safety by placing important safeguards into the rules and, importantly, ensured that victims will be protected, physically and financially," continued Kilmartin
In past letters to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Attorney General Kilmartin highlighted the most egregious sections of the legislation including amendments to the felony assault statute that would, in essence, reduce the maximum penalty for an assault with a dangerous weapon from 20 years to just six years, if serious bodily injury did not occur, regardless of the type of weapon used.
"When someone is a victim of a gunshot or knife jab, it is but for the grace of God alone that they do not die or suffer serious bodily injury. The egregiousness of the act does not change due to their injury, and therefore the criminal penalties should reflect that," said Kilmartin.
A second piece of legislation expected to pass would wrongly allow a defendant to complete their sentence without making a victim financially whole. Currently, a defendant must rightfully complete all of the terms of conditions of probation, including a full payment of restitution.
"This would be extremely complicated, and possibly unenforceable, because unlike those individuals serving a sentence or on home confinement, a probationer who has successfully completed their sentence is no longer obligated to the State of Rhode Island. This is the very reason restitution is a condition of the probationer's sentence. I am concerned that this provision would effectively make restitution unenforceable and the only persons harmed in that circumstance are crime victims. Victims should not be held responsible to collect restitution that was a part of a defendant's sentence, or worse, be forced to sue the criminal defendant to obtain it," added Kilmartin.
A third concern of the Attorney General is an amendment that removes "the nature and circumstances of the offense or offenses for which the applicant is sentenced" from what the Parole Board may consider in deviating from their standard on granting or denying parole.
"All crimes and defendants are different and the Parole Board should have this discretion when making parole determinations. This is especially true when there are victims involved and the defendant's actions were particularly reprehensible," said Kilmartin.
Another section of the legislation would effectively remove the probation condition of "keep the peace and be of good behavior" when a court determines if a defendant has violated the terms of his probation.
"That standard has been supported by decades of Rhode Island jurisprudence. Its exclusion in the new probation standard calls into question what is a probation violation," added Kilmartin.
"We have seen this done before and fail. Time and time again, the State passes feel good, 'flavor of the day' legislation only to have to go back and fix it when a real-life scenario presents itself. Let's not make the same mistake again," he concluded.