Act Now to Modernize RI’s Criminal Justice System

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative “is a series of bills aimed at modernizing Rhode Island’s criminal justice system while reducing the cost on taxpayers. Proposed changes include reducing the period of probation for many criminal offenses, expanding pretrial service programs, and authorizing the superior court to create a diversion program — a program that affords worthy, first time offenders the opportunity to avoid a conviction in exchange for community service and substance abuse and mental health counseling. It also allows courts to impose alternative sentences in limited cases.”

(Read this ProJo article for an excellent summary of the what the JRI is and where it presently stands.)

The JRI has widespread support from both the left and the right. Supporters include the American Civil Liberties Union, the public defender, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, the AFL-CIO, the Rhode Island State Police, the Providence Police, the Department of Corrections, the Rhode Island state judiciary, the American Conservative Union, and the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity. This legislative package is by no means a solution to the greater prison-industrial complex crisis, but it works to curtail the 11% growth in prison population by 2025 projected by the RI Dept of Corrections, and it would save taxpayers $3.8 million in the process.

The JRI has been supported by Governor Raimondo and the RI Senate. However, there is a major roadblock towards a House floor vote right now from Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. The Attorney General feels that the JRI would take power away from his office and hand it to the courts. His concerns are invalid and inappropriate in comparison to the positive changes that the JRI would bring.

Take action now to see that the JRI is passed during the current legislative session:

For further information and for reference, the package includes the following pieces of legislation:

  • S0005: Requests that the all branches of state government continue to seek ways to help Rhode Islanders return to productive activity after having been convicted of crimes. (http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText17/SenateText17/S0005.pdf)
  • S0006 & H5065: Creates a batterers intervention program fund. The act would also adopt evidence-based probation and parole supervision systems. (http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText17/HouseText17/H5065.pdf)
  • S0007 & H5063: Increases and expands the reimbursements for which victims of crime are reimbursed by the state to include expenses relating to medical or counseling services, expenses relating to participation of criminal justice proceedings, and funeral services. It would also increase the number of days which a victim must report a crime in order to be eligible for compensation under the act. (http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText17/HouseText17/H5063.pdf)
  • S0008 & H5117: Modifies the rules related to probation and violations thereof by, for example, allowing a punishment of only time served in cases of technical violations of probation and giving judges more flexibility when sentencing for guilty or nolo contender pleas. (http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText17/HouseText17/H5117.pdf)
  • S0009 & H5128: Amends certain provisions of the general laws pertaining to parole, medical parole, and community confinement, and would replace prison impact statements with correctional impact statements. Expands the ability of the parole board to take into account parolees’ circumstances and behavior before incarcerating them for violations (with flexibility in the duration) and to expand the impact statements required for corrections legislation. (http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText17/HouseText17/H5128.pdf)
  • S0010 & H5064: Allows the state judiciary to create a diversion program, enabling defendants to make restitution in ways other than prison terms, gives judges flexibility in handling the sanctions for complaints, and expands programs for pre-trial risk screening. This act would further require an officer in charge to consider releasing a person who has been arrested for a misdemeanor conditioned on a summons to appear and would permit an officer to release a suspect with serious mental health issues and refer them to the nearest inpatient or outpatient facility. (http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText17/HouseText17/H5064.pdf)
  • S0011 & H5115: This act would clarify what constitutes a felony, misdemeanor, and petty misdemeanor in 2 the definition section of the general laws, and would also amend the penalties for certain criminal 3 offenses involving assault and larceny, based on the value of property stolen. It removes fines over $1,000 as an automatic trigger for designation as a felony ease automatic designations of misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors, with specific exceptions/differences for assault and larceny. (http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText17/HouseText17/H5115.pdf)