Rise Together: Building a stronger & more equitable Rhode Island - The Raimondo Administration
Rise Together: Building a stronger & more equitable Rhode Island - The Raimondo Administration

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Raimondo Launches Working Group to Improve Criminal Justice System, Reduce Costs

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - As part of her efforts to foster innovation and accountability across state government, Governor Gina M. Raimondo today signed an Executive Order establishing the Justice Reinvestment Working Group. This data-driven approach, in collaboration with the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center will help to improve our public safety and reduce costs.

"We've made some important criminal justice reforms over the last decade, but urgent work remains," said Raimondo. "If we want to keep families and communities safe and give every Rhode Islander the chance to lead a productive life, and if we want to invest taxpayers' dollars more efficiently and effectively, we have to institute real reforms."

The Working Group will examine criminal justice system trends in Rhode Island and identify ways to relieve pressures on the correctional system and increase public safety, with a focus on three goals:

• Ensuring our limited resources are focused on the most serious crimes;

• Reducing recidivism and analyzing racial disparities; and

• Improving treatment of mental illness and substance abuse

Rhode Island had the nation's third-highest percentage of residents under probation supervision in 2013, yet only a small portion of public safety funding (about 8 percent) goes to probation and parole services. The Rhode Island Department of Corrections budget constitutes nearly half of all state costs associated with public safety.

"As prosecutors, the men and women of the Office of Attorney General work to ensure public safety, hold defendants accountable for their actions, and secure justice for victims of crimes," said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. "I look forward to working in collaboration with my colleagues to bring about effective reform to our criminal justice system and strengthen our efforts to enhance the safety and security of Rhode Islanders."

"Rhode Island has established itself as a national leader in using alternative sentencing options for those who do not pose a threat to our communities, while reserving our prison and jail beds for the most dangerous and violent individuals," said House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. "We need to continue to make smart reforms to our supervision system that also advance our public safety goals."

"Rhode Island leaders from across the spectrum worked together to develop policies that address some of our criminal justice system challenges," said President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed. "Today we are building on this momentum, in the continued spirit of collaboration that has served us well in the past, and committing to evidence-based strategies that work to keep our families and neighbors safe."

The Working Group includes members from all three branches of state government, and local and federal officials, and is co-chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell and retired Superior Court Associate Justice Judith Colenback Savage.

"This is a significant opportunity for Rhode Island to conduct a data-driven analysis of its sentencing and corrections practices," said Suttell. "We expect to focus on evidence-based programs that will work to decrease the number of repeat offenders and increase effective supervision, all the while saving taxpayer dollars and reinvesting in public safety."

"I thank the Governor for the opportunity to work with the Chief Justice, the Council of State Governments, and the talented members of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group to explore the possibilities for creative change in our criminal justice system-changes that can improve lives, make us safer, and save tax dollars while addressing our burgeoning prison and probation populations," said Savage. "After spending the last year at Roger Williams University School of Law educating students and the broader community about the issues of mass incarceration and mass probation, it is time to roll up our sleeves and address these problems."

The Working Group will be assisted by the CSG Justice Center, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance.

"The projected growth in Rhode Island's prison population is not predetermined," said Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' public safety performance project. "By looking at strategies that are working across the country, analyzing the reasons for the projected growth, and engaging stakeholders from across the system, state leaders can build on the 2008 reforms and continue to reduce both crime and recidivism."

The working group will review findings presented by the CSG Justice Center and develop policy options for the Rhode Island General Assembly's consideration next year.

"We applaud the leadership Rhode Island officials are demonstrating to advance Justice Reinvestment in their state," said Denise O'Donnell, director of the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance. "By launching this project and establishing an interbranch working group, Rhode Island takes a necessary first step towards creating new justice reform policies grounded in research and state-specific data that will reduce unnecessary incarceration and improve community safety."

Rhode Island's first experience applying the Justice Reinvestment framework led to the enactment of House Bill 7204 in 2008. Among other things, the bill enhanced parole discretion and standardized credits for time served. Since its implementation, the state's incarcerated population has dropped by 19 percent and the recidivism rate has also declined.

About the CSG Justice Center

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. The CSG Justice Center provides practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based, consensus-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities. These efforts, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance, have provided similar data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in 18 other states to date.