Stenhouse Testimony on Justice Reinvestment Initiative Bills

The PDF below is the written testimony submitted on January 31, 2017 to the House Judiciary Committee by the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, with regard to the House package of bills recommended by the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI).

The testimony follows the prior day’s release of the Center’s Right on Crime policy brief, which discusses the impetus behind these bills, as well as other criminal justice reform issues.

PDF of Stenhouse Testimony


Right on Crime: Increasing Family Prosperity via Criminal Justice Reform

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.


Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), December 2016: RI Holds Steady Despite Jobs Hit

The preliminary yearend Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity shows the Ocean State holding on to 48th place in the country despite a hit to its jobs and employment numbers. In part, this result derived from improved income numbers, which lag by a quarter and may moderate when the full year is included in a final result for 2016.

Eight of the 13 datapoints used for the index have been newly updated. Employment was down 803 from the previously recorded number, while labor force fell 2,199 and RI-based jobs slipped by 600. (Note that these are calculated with pre-revision data for the prior month.) Medicaid enrollment numbers, now available through November, increased by 5,157, perhaps resulting from UHIP and HealthSource RI’s open enrollment period. Within the index that increase was offset by a 2,608 reduction in SNAP enrollment and a 199 reduction in TANF. (Note that these results predate UHIP, which may drive them up when fully functional.) Meanwhile, annualized state and local tax collections were up by $24 million, but personal income was up $802 million.

The first chart below shows Rhode Island still in the last position in New England. As the only two New England states to move in the rankings, Maine and Connecticut managed to increase their distance from Vermont and Massachusetts, respectively. New Hampshire remained 1st in the nation, with Maine a distant second, at 19th, now two places ahead of Vermont, at 21st. Connecticut moved up two to 32nd, outpacing Massachusetts, at 35th.


The second chart shows the gap between Rhode Island and New England and the United States on JOI. The Ocean State lost ground against both averages. Rhode Island also lost ground with growing gaps on the unemployment rate (third chart).



Results for the three underlying JOI factors were:

  • Job Outlook Factor (measuring optimism that adequate work is available): RI remained at 39th.
  • Freedom Factor (measuring the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): RI remained at 39th.
  • Prosperity Factor (measuring the financial motivation of income versus taxes): RI moved up one to 46th.

Initial Reaction to Governor’s Proposed Budget


January 19, 2017

Lack of Vision and Bold Action – Stunning

Providence, RI — The Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, provides initial reaction to the Governor’s proposed 2018 budget:

“When our state ranks 48th in family prosperity and dead last in business climate, a ‘no broad-based tax increase’ strategy simply is not good enough. We just lost 1000 jobs! The new mandates, increased minimum wage, and new penalties on businesses only rub salt in the wound. More taxes and more special handout spending policies are exactly the wrong approach; especially corporate tax credits, which do nothing to help the average family and business. Where is the bold action? The lack of leadership and vision and the acceptance of our dismal status quo is stunning.”

A more detailed statement from the Center will be issued tomorrow.


Disintegration of RI Families? Center Invites Civic, Religious, & Political leaders to Forum to Discuss New Report

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 21, 2016

Turning the Tide Toward Prosperity in the Ocean State:
Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and American Conservative Union Foundation Unveil Report on Underlying Reasons for Rhode Island’s Rank (48th) on Family Prosperity Index

Government Crowd-Out of Business & Civil Society, Family Disintegration Contribute to Migration of Residents to Other States, Create Drag on Family Prosperity

Providence, RI — The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, along with its national partner, The American Conservative Union Foundation, today unveiled an in-depth analysis of factors contributing to the Ocean State’s dismal score on the Family Prosperity Index (FPI). The Rhode Island Family Prosperity report – the second “deep dive” state study following the national introduction of the FPI at CPAC earlier this year – highlights Rhode Island’s poor scores on a number of factors, including family self-sufficiency, family structure, fertility, and illicit drug use, compounded by its significant out-migration rate, as the determinant factors in the state’s overall FPI rank of 48th in the nation.

In conjunction with the release of the report, the organizations announced their plans to co-host a forum featuring national and local experts in early 2017 to explore the problem areas outlined in the FPI report as well as possible solutions. The forum will take place on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 17, at the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University.

The Family Prosperity Index, created by ACU Foundation economists Wendy Warcholik, Ph.D., and J. Scott Moody, M.A., is an entirely new tool that does what no resource has done before – demonstrate quantitatively the undeniable link between economic and social policy in determining family prosperity. In so doing, the Index provides a road map for finding real solutions to the cultural and financial problems that keep families – and the nation – from flourishing. A more holistic measure than the one-dimensional unemployment rate or GDP, which only considers economic data, the FPI makes it possible to measure U.S. progress every year and rate states against each other according to how well they are providing an environment for families to flourish.

The FPI provides the credible data that state policymakers, civic and religious leaders, think tanks and activists need in order to develop and advocate effectively for policies that improve the prosperity of families and the communities where they live.

“Everyone concerned about the well-being of our state’s families should be alarmed by our unacceptable 48th-place ranking,” said Mike Stenhouse, Chief Executive Officer of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity. “It is time to challenge the status quo insider mindset and to search for a more holistic path to help real Rhode Islanders improve their quality of life. Our January forum will provide an ideal opportunity for community, religious, and political leaders to convene to begin this process.”

The FPI assesses the economic and social status of six discrete index categories – economics, demographics, family structure, family self-sufficiency, family culture and family health. The categories are supported by 57 data-sets from publicly accessible data and backed up by current documentable research. In the inaugural 2016 edition of the FPI, in which Utah was ranked first and New Mexico last overall, Rhode Island ranked in the bottom ten states on economics, demographics, family structure, and family self-sufficiency; dead last on family health; and in the middle of the pack on family culture.

According to the report released today, “With such a low overall FPI score, Rhode Island clearly has a lot of work to do to improve the economic and social conditions necessary for enhanced family well-being. On the economic side, we must expand the private sector, boost entrepreneurship, and reduce net out-migration. On the social side, Rhode Island would benefit from a boost in fertility, stronger intact families, and a significant reduction in illicit drug use and incarceration.”

The report provides direction for a path forward for the Ocean State. “Rhode Island’s politicians would do well to focus on minimizing government encroachment on its citizens by reducing its onerous tax burden, which, in turn, would spark new entrepreneurship and jobs, and on taking up pro-family measures that encourage healthy familial activity. Rhode Island’s community and religious leaders would also do well to inspire their constituents to aspire to a higher level of self-sufficiency as part of stronger marriages or otherwise healthier lifestyles.

“Religious institutions and other elements of civil society can help mitigate Demographic Winter in the Ocean State by addressing issues associated with family fertility, out-of-wedlock births, incarceration and drug abuse, and overall religious participation….

“If we want to turn the tide of friends and family members moving out of Rhode Island…we must embark on a new path toward renewed well-being. The Family Prosperity Index shows us the way.”

The FPI, which will be published annually and ranks each of the 50 states according to their respective scores, is the basis for a multi-year effort of the ACU Foundation’s Family Prosperity Initiative. The Initiative includes a deeper analysis of each state and its performance on the Index, providing potentially county-by-county guidance for possible policy changes. The state reports – of which Rhode Island’s is the second – will occur on a rolling basis.

Said American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, “I hope Rhode Island’s leaders will take to heart the recommendations in the report released today to help turn the tide toward greater prosperity for Ocean State families.”


Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), November 2016: A Quiet Entry to the Holiday Season

The final Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity to be released in 2016 brings little change, leaving until next year information about how factors such as the problematic Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) will affect Rhode Island’s position nationally.

Of the 13 datapoints used for the index, only five were newly updated for the November report. Employment was down 365 from the previously recorded number, while labor force fell a substantial 1,758, although RI-based jobs increased by 300. (Note that these are calculated with pre-revision data for the prior month.) Medicaid enrollment decreased by 1,369 from August to September and SNAP by 667. The enrollment numbers for Rhode Island’s welfare programs will be a key variable to watch as 2016 data is completed early in the next year. Assuming UHIP doesn’t undermine data reporting to the federal government, the question will be whether increased information finds more current enrollees ineligible than connecting all of the program brings more people to benefits.

The first chart shows Rhode Island locked in the last position in New England on JOI. Although New England experienced a mix of improved and declining JOI scores, no states changed position in the national ranking. New Hampshire remained 1st in the nation, with Maine a distant second, at 20th. Vermont was right behind, at 21st. Connecticut narrowly held its 34th position, with Massachusetts next, at 35th.


The second chart shows the gap between Rhode Island and New England as well as the United States, with the Ocean State’s lag worsening slightly in both cases. Rhode Island kept pace with New England for the gap on the unemployment rate but lost ground against the national average (third chart).

rineus-joi-2005-1116 rineus-unemployment-2005-1116

Results for the three underlying JOI factors were:

  • Job Outlook Factor (measuring optimism that adequate work is available): RI remained at 39th.
  • Freedom Factor (measuring the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): RI remained at 39th.
  • Prosperity Factor (measuring the financial motivation of income versus taxes): RI remained at 47th.

STATEMENT: RI & Department of Health Reality Check; Center Renews Call for Inspector General

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 30, 2016

State Lawmakers Need to Face the Realities of a Trump Administration

Providence, RI– As it warned four years ago, when it advised against Medicaid expansion and the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity again warns against the ‘business as usual approach’ on display this past week by state officials. The Center suggests that the Rhode Island Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the state administration need a reality check with regard to the now epic UHIP computer systems disaster and the recent announcement of more funds planned to be sunk into expansion of the state’s Medicaid infrastructure.

“Newsflash: in seven weeks, Barack Obama will no longer be President. There is a shifting healthcare landscape and state officials need to recognize that unlimited federal support to continue these costly boondoggles is going to end,” suggested Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “At a time when the federal government will be making dramatic new course changes towards making private health insurance more accessible to more American families, our state, stubbornly, is doubling down on its plans to keep plowing ahead with the failed government-centric approach.”

The Center believes it is irresponsible to plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to expand our state’s Medicaid capacity at a time when the federal government and many other states will be moving in the opposite direction: towards reducing enrollment in the government’s public health insurance offering and, instead, towards increasing private health insurance enrollment through an aggressive offering of premium subsidies and/or tax credits. An even more poignant question is whether or not the new presidential administration and Congress will even re-authorize these funds?

The Center expresses further concern that the hundreds of millions of dollars of planned federal and state spending will do little to help working families and small businesses, who will be expected to pay for this spending, most of which go to enriching insider institutions that are part of the Medicaid system. “For every dollar we spend on this wayward path, that’s one less dollar we can proactively spend on education reform or tax cuts,” suggested Stenhouse.

As it has also maintained for years, the Center continues to warn that the real costs of UHIP have not yet fully materialized. The one-stop-shopping aspect of UHIP will purposely lead to increased enrollment in various government services – resulting in new costs that our state cannot afford and – because of the changing landscape – that the federal government may cut funding.

Based on these examples of government incompetence and the continued hemorrhaging of taxpayer money, the Center renews its call for government checks-and-balances via legislation that would create an Office of the Inspector General. The Center believes it is vital than an independent, non-partisan entity should keep watch over state spending in order to prevent the squandering of taxpayer money as has been seen with the UHIP and DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) computer systems. Similarly, major spending projects in other state agencies, such as the multi-billion dollar RhodeWorks program to repair the state’s crumbling bridges and roads, must also be subject to close fiscal oversight of this kind.


10 Multi-partisan Policy Principles to Improve on RI’s 48th Ranking in Family Prosperity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 6, 2016
Multi-partisan Policy Recommendations to Improve Family Prosperity and Upward Mobility

Offers public policy ideas for 2016 State candidates to consider

Providence, RI — With statewide elections in just two months, voters must consider whether a turnover in elected officials is necessary to to see a turnover in public policies that may actually improve their families’ prosperity.

Ranking just 48th on the national Family Prosperity Index (FPI) published earlier this year, the broadest available measure of family well-being, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (Center) today published a summary of the state’s rankings in dozens of FPI categories along with a set of policy principles that lawmakers are encouraged to consider.

“What if we were to realize that the status quo public policy approach, as well-intended as it may be, in reality, has had the unintended consequence of reducing the overall prosperity of our Rhode Island families,” suggested Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO.”The FPI research clearly demonstrates that cultural, social, and demographic factors must also be considered, in addition to economic factors, when formulating effective public policy.”

The Center maintains that a new public policy approach – an approach that considers the whole person, not just his/her material needs – and that takes the best ideas from across the political spectrum – is required to improve the lives of Ocean State families and individual taxpayers.

The two page policy brief provides a color coded summary of the Ocean State’s rankings. As part of its 48th place ranking among all states, Rhode Island: ranked in the bottom-third in 5 of the 6 major categories, and 18 of the 30 sub-categories; ranked in the middle-third in 1 of 6 major categories and 8 sub-categories; and in the top-third in zero major categories and just 4 sub-categories. The state’s worst rankings are in the major category of Family Demographics, where it ranks red in all 5 sub-categories.

To directly address these problems the Center has developed 10 guiding policy principles that candidates should debate this fall and that lawmakers should consider in the 2017 session. “The solution for our families is not about corporate welfare to targeted ‘advanced industries,’ but rather broad-based policies that enhance opportunity for every family and business,” continued Stenhouse.

In this regard, the Center’s ten policy principles include ideas from the playbooks of both the right and the left. “A new spirit of across-the-aisle and civic cooperation is required if our state government is to effectively serve its constituents. Additionally, community, religious and business leaders also have a very important role to play as public policy cannot address many of the problems Rhode Island must overcome if our families are to improve their chances of upward mobility,” concluded Stenhouse.


Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), October 2016 Lagging on Long-Term Unemployment; Leading with Welfare

For the October Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, our methodology changed slightly. All numbers in the Prosperity Factor (income over taxes) are now annualized.The change made no ranking difference for Rhode Island, which remains 48th, but Vermont did move back into third place in the New England race.

Of the 13 datapoints used for the index, nine are updated for the October report, including measures of long-term employment weakness, on which Rhode Island did poorly, compared with the rest of the country. Employment was up 292 from the previously recorded number, while labor force fell 188, and RI-based jobs increased by 2,200. (Note that these are calculated with pre-revision data for the prior month, but using our new methodology.) Medicaid enrollment increased by 3,183 and SNAP by 267, although TANF dropped by 98. Long-term unemployment was down 300 people and marginally attached workers 100, but the number of Rhode Islanders working part-time against their will remained exactly the same.

The first chart at right shows Rhode Island still hopelessly the last state in New England on JOI. New England experienced a mix of improved and declining JOI scores. New Hampshire remained 1st in the nation, and Maine held firm at 20th. Vermont moved up two slots, to 21st, on Maine’s heals. Connecticut moved in the other direction, falling to 34th in the country, while Massachusetts moved up two, to 35th.


The second chart at right shows the gap between Rhode Island and New England as well as the United States, with the Ocean State gaining slightly on the U.S., but slipping against the region. However, Rhode Island’s gap worsened on the unemployment rate (third chart).



Results for the three underlying JOI factors were:

  • Job Outlook Factor (measuring optimism that adequate work is available): RI fell from 36th to 39th.
  • Freedom Factor (measuring the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): RI remained at 39th.
  • Prosperity Factor (measuring the financial motivation of income versus taxes): RI remained at 47th by this factor.