PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Governor Gina M. Raimondo, joined by members of the General Assembly and community advocates, today signed the package of legislation collectively known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The bills aim to improve Rhode Island's criminal justice system while reducing costs by promoting rehabilitation and informed decision-making in sentencing, probation and parole.
"Today represents the culmination of years of hard work and dedication," Raimondo said. "The final product of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group's efforts enjoys wide support from stakeholders at every step of the criminal justice process, from judges to law enforcement to victims advocates. For too many generations, Rhode Island neglected to update our probation and parole processes, leaving us with the second-highest probation rate in the nation and an unacceptably high recidivism rate. The legislation I signed today will bring us back in line with respected, evidence-based best practices that take the pressure off of our system and save taxpayer dollars. By being smart on crime, we are making sure that every Rhode Islander can benefit from a fairer, more effective system."
In May of 2015, Governor Raimondo joined with Chief Justice Suttell, Speaker Mattiello, former Senate President Paiva-Weed and other stakeholders in convening the Justice Reinvestment Working Group to provide recommendations for improving Rhode Island's criminal justice system. The United States has the highest percentage of incarcerated citizens in the world, and Rhode Island has the second-highest probation rate in the United States. An astonishing number of Rhode Islanders--nearly 24,000--are on probation. More than half of Rhode Islanders on probation are unsupervised, increasing the likelihood of recidivism.
Rhode Island cannot afford, and should not tolerate, a system that places 1 in every 20 adult males and 1 in every 6 adult black males on probation. Without Justice Reinvestment, the Department of Corrections estimates that our state's prison population will grow by 11% over the next decade, adding $28 million in additional operating and staffing costs.
"This was a collective effort to modernize Rhode Island's broken criminal justice system," said Senator McCaffrey. "Rhode Island's antiquated laws have overwhelmed our probation and parole system, leading to high rates of recidivism and increased costs. This comprehensive overhaul of those laws ensures Rhode Island's criminal justice system prioritizes community safety, rehabilitation, and the targeted investment of taxpayer dollars.
Justice Reinvestment embraces the sensible reallocation of criminal justice resources from incarceration to treatment in order to improve public safety, reduce costs and promote rehabilitation of past offenders and successful reentry into society. The bills emphasize not only the hallmarks of Rhode Island's legal system--equality, justice, and rehabilitation--but also effectiveness and efficiency by:
-modernizing sentencing by giving courts critical information about an individual's substance abuse and mental health needs;
-making probation supervision more effective by requiring the Department of Corrections to conduct needs assessments;
-creating a diversion program within the Superior Court so that those who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse can receive the treatment they need; and
-expanding benefits for victims of crime.
"Justice reinvestment cuts spending and reinvests savings in practices that have been shown to improve safety and hold offenders accountable," said Representative Craven. "I'm proud of the General Assembly for taking the steps to address much of what is wrong with our criminal justice system."
"We hear a lot these days about our divisions and our differences, about how government can never get anything done and, about how we do not care enough about one another," said former Superior Court Judge Judith Savage. "Justice reinvestment is a remarkable testament to the ability of all three branches of government to come together and to listen to and work with hundreds of stakeholders and members of the public in the name of greater justice for all."
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative received wide-ranging, bipartisan support from prominent Rhode Island organizations, including: the Rhode Island State Police, the Providence Police, the Department of Corrections, the Rhode Island state judiciary, the public defender, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, the AFL-CIO, the American Conservative Union and the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, among others.
The bills signed today are as follows:
-Creates standards for batterer's intervention program with the goal of improving program quality and reducing the likelihood of reoffending. -Requires the Department of Corrections to modernize probation supervision by adopting evidence-based practices.
-Expands the eligibility and benefits for recipients of the Crime Victims Compensation Fund.
-Creates more accountable, evidence-based sentencing and violation response policies within the probation system. -Provides the judiciary with more information regarding probation sentences and violations, and grants judges more discretion to act on this information.
-Gives the parole board discretion to credit time spent on parole toward the original sentence upon revocation of parole. -Expands eligibility for medical parole by amending the definition of a "life-limiting diagnosis" as one that "will lead to profound functional, cognitive and/or physical decline within eighteen (18) months," rather than six months under current law. -Requires the Department of Corrections to monitor the implementation of justice reinvestment policies.
-Enables the creation of a diversion program within the Superior Court so that those who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse can receive the treatment they need. -Establishes risk assessment and screening responsibilities and processes within the pretrial services unit to better inform decision-making.
-Refines the definition and penalties for felony assault and provides a more detailed value ladder for felony theft-type offenses.
-Widens eligibility for the drug court program in Superior Court.