By John Hill
In recent years, many of the ways the state’s criminal justice system deals with probation, mental health and addiction issues have been criticized, and left unchanged. But 2016 could be different, with a high-profile study group appointed by Governor Raimondo preparing to recommend a series of policy and law changes.
Dubbed the Justice Reinvention Working Group, the 27-member panel includes legislators, sitting and retired state and federal judges, and police chiefs, as well as state officials from the corrections department, parole board, mental health agencies and representatives from the Latino Policy Institute, the Rhode Island NAACP and the Commission for Human Rights. It’s being assisted by staffers from the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center, a nonpartisan association that studies governing policies and practices and that has studied prison and probation programs in other states.
The working group is expected to complete its work by the end of the year with a report that will include policy and legislative recommendations for the governor to implement administratively or submit to the General Assembly.
The panel’s focus has been on sentencing and probation. With 23,686 people on probation or parole in the 2014-15 fiscal year, Rhode Island has the third-highest probation rate in the country. Each of the Department of Corrections’ 63 probation officers has a caseload that ranges from 211 to 89, depending on whether the officer is handling general cases or those that have been targeted for more specialized attention, such as cases involving sex offenders, drug court defendants or those with mental health issues.
The group is also looking into how the state and its criminal justice system handle mentally ill defendants and those with substance-abuse problems.
Raimondo said she hoped the “data-driven” approach of the group will produce proposals that will enable the system — courts, prisons and probation — to function more smoothly and less expensively.
“The goal is to identify reforms that will improve public safety and reduce costs in the long-term,” the governor said in a statement.
“This is an enormous undertaking,” she said. “But if we want to keep families and communities safe, if we want to help give every Rhode Islander the chance to lead productive lives, and if we want to invest taxpayers’ dollars more efficiently and effectively, we have to institute real reforms.”
JUSTICE REINVENTION WORKING GROUP
— Retired Superior Court Judge Judith C. Savage
— State Supreme Court Justice Paul Suttell
— State Rep. Marvin Abney
— State Rep. Robert Craven
— State Rep. Cale Keable
— Mary McElroy, public defender
— State Rep. Daniel Reilly
— Ana-Cano Morales, Latino Policy Institute
— Michael Evora, Commission for Human Rights
— Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin
— Maria Montanaro, director, Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals
— Lincoln Police Chief Brian Sullivan, R.I. Police Chiefs Association
— Col. Hugh Clements, Providence police chief
— Superior Court Judge John Flynn
— District Court Judge Jeanne LaFazia
— Col. Steven O’Donnell, state police superintendent
— Olin Thompson, Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
— Megan Clingham, R.I. mental health advocate
— Superior Court Presiding Justice Alice Gibney
— State Sen. Michael McCaffrey
— State Sen. Christopher Ottiano
— James Vincent, president R.I. NAACP
— State Sen. Cynthia Coyne
— State Sen. Paul Jabour
— U.S. District Judge John McConnell Jr.
— Laura Pisaturo, chairwoman, R.I. Parole Board
— A.T. Wall, director, R.I. Department of Corrections