By CSG Justice Center Staff
On October 5, 2017, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed a package of justice reinvestment bills, which are expected to improve the state’s criminal justice system by supporting rehabilitation and informed decision making in sentencing, probation, and parole.
What does this mean for Rhode Island?
Judicial decisions and supervision practices will now be informed by risk and needs assessments.
- 2017-S 0006A, 2017-H 5065A establishes a batterer’s intervention program (BIP) fund and mandates that the BIP follow evidence-based practices that reduce the risk of future violent behavior. The act also calls for the adoption of evidence-based probation and parole practices, including:
- The use of risk and needs screening and assessments and behavioral health assessments to inform decisions regarding probation and parole supervision intensity, case management, and treatment objectives;
- Focusing supervision resources on people who are assessed as being at a high risk of reoffending; and
- Training supervision officers on the use of risk and needs assessments as they pertain to supervision practices; sanctions and incentives; and recognizing substance use and mental health needs.
- 2017-S 0009A, 2017-H 5128A modernizes sentencing by giving courts critical information about a person’s substance use and mental health needs that will be used to inform decisions regarding arraignment and bail as well as pretrial conditions and supervision.
- 2017-S 0008B, 2017-H 5117A makes several changes to sentencing guidelines and responses to probation violations, including allowing judges to consider whether time served is an appropriate sanction for a probation violation, and requiring that probation violation hearings be held within 30 days unless waived by the defendant.
Benefits will be expanded for victims of crime. 2017-S 0007B, 2017-H 5063A ensures that victims of crime will be reimbursed for a greater variety of expenses and will be eligible for greater compensation for burial and relocation costs. Victims will also have more time to report crimes for which they are eligible to receive reimbursement, and the three-year statute of limitations for claims will be removed.
People who have mental illnesses or substance use disorders will receive the treatment they need. 2017-S 0010B, 2017-H 5064A allows for the creation of a Superior Court diversion program. Once established, the program would allow the court to administer rules whereby defendants would participate in substance use screening, community service, counseling, and other reasonable conditions as alternatives to incarceration.
There will be more structured sentencing for certain crimes. 2017-S 0011B, 2017-H 5115A clarifies what constitutes a felony, misdemeanor, and petty misdemeanor, and structures the penalties for certain criminal offenses involving assault and larceny based on the nature of the assault and the value of property stolen.
Why is this legislation needed?
Rhode Island has the second-highest probation rate in the nation, with more than 23,000 people on probation in the state, which represents 1 in 20 adult men and 1 in 6 adult black men. More than half of Rhode Islanders on probation are unsupervised, increasing the likelihood of recidivism.
Rhode Island’s outdated probation policies have contributed significantly to the number of people incarcerated in the state. One-third of pretrial admissions to the state’s Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) are for alleged violations of probation, and an estimated 60 percent of sentenced admissions are for probation violations.
At the start of the justice reinvestment process, the Department of Corrections estimated that the state’s prison population would grow by 11 percent over the next decade, adding $28 million in additional operating and staffing costs.
How was the legislation developed?
With technical assistance from The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, the bipartisan 27-member Justice Reinvestment Working Group met five times between July and December of 2015 as part of a data-driven justice reinvestment approach to address the issues in the state’s criminal justice system—particularly in probation. Ultimately, a package of legislation passed with bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House and was signed by the governor.
What other steps has Rhode Island taken to make system improvements?
In June 2016, the Rhode Island Supreme Court adopted a series of amendments to the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure and Superior Court Sentencing Benchmarks. Early discharge for people on probation was included in these rules. Officers can now petition the court to terminate supervision for people on probation who are low risk and compliant, thus reserving resources for people who are assessed as being at a high risk of reoffending.
Also in June 2016, the General Assembly passed and adopted a budget that included an upfront investment of $893,000 earmarked for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections to support enhancements to risk and needs assessment, cognitive-behavioral programming, and hiring and training additional probation officers.
Visit the CSG Justice Center’s Rhode Island justice reinvestment page to read the final report to the Justice Reinvestment Working Group and data analysis presentations that were delivered to the Working Group.