by Justin Katz and Matthew Henry Young
A Pressing Need for Reform
Many families seeking upward mobility and prosperity must first break the cycle of incarceration — a cycle that makes it nearly impossible for those caught up in it, ex-offenders in particular, to achieve productive lives for themselves and their families.
New national research shows that Rhode Island ranked just 48th on the 2016 Family Prosperity Index (FPI) as well as just 48th on the Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI). In December 2016, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, in conjunction with its national partner, the American Conservative Union, issued a 52-page RI Family Prosperity report that highlighted contributing factors to our state’s poor rankings across 57 indexes.
Among other things, the report suggests that Rhode Island has room to modernize and improve its criminal justice system. Reforms put forth as part of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) and by other organizations can lessen the harmful consequences of over-incarceration for Ocean State families:
- S0005: to request that the state government continue to seek ways to help Rhode Islanders return to productive activity after having been convicted of crimes
- S0006 & H5065: to add dedicated funding to an intervention program for domestic abusers, to make supervision more effective and humane through increased training and assessment, with more emphasis on government-driven manipulation toward “pro-social behaviors”
- S0007 & H5063: to increase and expand the reimbursements for which victims of crime are reimbursed by the state, for example reimbursing families for funeral expenses of deceased victims and expanding the time to report crimes.
- S0008 & H5117: to modify 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
- S0009 & H5128: to expand 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
- S0010 & H5064: to allow the state judiciary to create a diversion program, enabling defendants to make restitution in ways other than prison terms, to give judges flexibility in handling the sanctions for complaints, and to expand programs for pre-trial risk screening
- S0011 & H5115: to remove 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
Rhode Island’s dismal overall circumstances will only be improved if policymakers and civil society leaders are willing to join together to pursue needed reforms, one issue at time, as highlighted in the state’s FPI report. The status quo has obviously not been working for Ocean State families.
Outdated and overly harsh policies have done little to help Rhode Islanders and their families when it comes to criminal justice. Our policies have long-term consequences that ripple throughout time and adversely affect children and families… generation after generation.