State legislatures are making massive strides in Rhode Island probation reform. This new way of dealing with the mass incarceration problem could be a good model for other states to follow. Rhode Island is attempting to provide treatment rather than monitoring to those on probation. In an attempt to shrink the probation population, Rhode Island legislatures have written seven new laws.
Rhode Island Probation Reform: The Problem
The problem in Rhode Island is that the state has the third-highest probation rate. The 2014 statistics show that 1 out of every 44 adult residents in Rhode Island is under probation supervision. In Providence, the number of adults under probation supervision climbs to 1 out of every 22 adults. 1 out of every 6 adult black males is on probation or parole.
“Probation supervision” in Rhode Island isn’t exactly as it seems. Given the large number of people on probation, it is nearly impossible to supervise them all. So, many people on probation are “inactively supervised.” In fact, up to 60% of people on probation don’t have the necessary level of supervision. Therefore, probation does little to actually correct the problems that Rhode Island faces.
There has been a massive push across the country to provide mental health services to those with criminal convictions. Treatment is usually more cost-effective than jail and also provides more of a return to the taxpayer for every dollar spent. Therefore, many states have gone away from conventional ways of dealing with “criminals” and have instead shifted their focus to treating these individuals.
Reports have found that even though Rhode Island has seen a reduction in the prison and probation population, that trend is likely to reverse. The group expects an 11% increase in these populations before 2025. Furthermore, this increase will result in an additional $28 million per year in staff and facilities.
Rhode Island Probation Reform: Justice Reinvestment Initiative
The package of seven bills is known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). The Rhode Island Senate was unanimous in passing the JRI. Support from both sides of the aisle is very rare in today’s political landscape. However, both Republicans and Democrats have shown support for this initiative.
After analyzing the data, state senators came up with five key goals for new legislation. These goals include:
- Modernizing sentencing guidelines and probation supervision policies.
- Expanding community programs to prevent recidivism.
- Focusing probation supervision resources on high-needs or high-risk people.
- Assess defendants to inform diversion opportunities and pretrial supervision conditions.
- Lastly, the group aims to improve services to victims throughout the criminal justice system.
One of the key bills allows judges greater leeway in sentencing. Also, judges will have the ability to provide treatment to those with mental disabilities instead of jail time. Treatment is more cost effective than prison. In fact, residential treatment, vocational training, and support services cost half the amount of an average prison sentence. Substance abuse treatment returns as much as eight dollars to the economy for every one dollar spent. Treating a person’s issues allows them to become employable and no longer a drain on government assistance programs. Lastly, those that attend treatment are much less likely to repeat their crimes.
Another of the seven bills will cap the amount of time on probation for non-violent crimes to three years. Also, individuals will have a way to petition the court to reduce their probation.
Rhode Island Probation Reform: What’s Next
Last year a group of similar bills failed to make it past the Senate. There was uneven support from both Democrats and Republicans. However, this year the vote was unanimously in favor of the Rhode Island probation reform bills.
Given the bi-partisan support in the state Senate, it is very likely that the House will pass the bills. Once the bills pass the House of Representatives, it is likely that the Governor will sign the bills into law.
One of the first initiatives to start is the modernizing of the probation and parole system. The first step is to hire more probation officers and provide training. This step is already underway because of a $893,000 addition to the budget for 2017.
Finding the Right Attorney
It is important to find the right attorney for your case. Hiring an attorney that can guide you through changing Rhode Island court system is imperative. Susan Perkins has years of experience dealing with all aspects of probation and parole. Attorney Perkins stays up to date in all of the changing laws and requirements. If these new bills affect your case or if you are facing a probation violation, call Susan Perkins today to schedule a consultation.