STATE HOUSE — As part of a broad scoped effort at justice reinvestment, Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has once again submitted legislation that would bring about a massive overhaul of Rhode Island’s probation and parole system.
In her address to the Senate on the opening day of session, president of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) listed justice reinvestment among the chamber’s priorities for the 2017 session.
“Justice reinvestment saves money through lower incarceration rates, makes communities safer by making offenders less likely to reoffend, and has the potential to transform lives of individuals who need treatment, not incarceration,” she said in her initial address to the chamber.
The legislation is the culmination of months of work by Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group, which she created by executive order in July 2015. The group undertook an exhaustive study of the state’s criminal justice system using a “justice reinvestment” approach, designed to identify new ways to relieve pressures on the correctional system and increase public safety
Rhode Island first employed the justice reinvestment approach in 2008. Since that time, the incarcerated population declined 17 percent by 2014.
“Building on these efforts, we began to focus our attention on other parts of the state’s criminal justice system, particularly probation,” explained Senator McCaffrey. “Rhode Island had the third-highest probation rate in the country in 2013, yet only about 8 percent of the public safety budget goes to parole and probation. The package of bills being offered for consideration addresses many of the challenges facing our criminal justice system.”
The legislation introduced by McCaffrey comprises the following bills:
2017-S 0005 — This resolution would request that all branches of state government continue to collaborate on policy actions and investments to implement the findings and recommendations of the Rhode Island Justice Reinvestment Project facilitated by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
2017-S 0006 — This act would create a batterer’s intervention program fund. The act would also adopt evidence-based probation and parole supervision systems.
2017-S 0007 — This act would expand the type of direct expenses that crime victims can be reimbursed for pursuant to the criminal injuries compensation act. It would also increase the maximum emergency compensation award for burial costs and relocation and related costs. The three-year statute limitations for claims would be removed and eligible victims would have five additional days to report a crime which resulted in their injuries.
2017-S 0008 — This act would make several changes to the sentencing and execution guidelines for purposes of criminal procedure and would add new conditions of criminal probation.
2017-S 0009 — This act would amend the provisions of the general laws pertaining to parole, medical parole, community confinement, and would replace prison impact statements with correctional impact statements.
2017-S 0010 — This act would allow the presiding justice of the Superior Court, with the approval of the Supreme Court, to create a Superior Court diversion program. The program would allow the court to administer rules whereby defendants would participate in substance abuse screening, community service, counseling and any other reasonable conditions.
2017-S 0011 — This act would clarify what constitutes a felony, misdemeanor, and petty misdemeanor in the definition section of the general laws, and would also amend the penalties for certain criminal offenses involving assault and larceny, based on the value of property stolen.
If the legislation is enacted, CSG Justice Center staff will work with Rhode Island policymakers for a period of up to two years to implement the new policies. This assistance will help ensure that related programs and system investments achieve projected outcomes and are implemented using the latest research-based, data-driven strategies.
CSG Justice Center staff will develop implementation plans with state officials, provide policymakers with frequent progress reports, and deliver testimony to relevant legislative committees. Rhode Island will have the opportunity to apply for additional federal grant funding to meet important onetime implementation needs, such as upgrading information technology and ensuring fidelity to evidence-based practices.
The legislation has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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