R.I. Senate Panel to Reconsider Prison Bills

Providence Journal

By John Hill

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The state Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday put off for two days votes on six bills that would change the state’s probation and parole system after it voted to consider modifications to four of them.

The changed bills include: one to allow the Superior Court to create a diversion program similar to the existing gun courts and veterans courts; lessen sentences for certain assaults; change who could appeal an award from the state’s victims restitution fund; and one that would have shortened how long a court may keep the authority to sentence a convicted defendant.

The bills were the result of about 10 months of work by the governor’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group, which Governor Raimondo charged with studying the state’s probation system and recommending changes to make it less costly and more efficient.

One bill proposed letting the Superior Court set up an alternative program for defendants found to need treatment and therapy more than prison. In the original, if qualifying defendants complied with written therapy and behavior contracts with the court, they could have been exonerated of their charges and have any record of it erased. The new version keeps the program, but deletes the exoneration and record-clearing provisions.

The working group’s legislative package would lessen sentences for felony assaults to a maximum of six years unless it resulted in serious bodily injury, which would draw a 20-year maximum sentence. The new version adds assaults with firearms, regardless of injury, to the 20-year maximum list.

An amended proposal to increase the amount crime victims could be paid from the state’s victims restitution fund left the increased amounts the same, but would change who could appeal an award from “closest living relative” to the wording of the fund’s original legislation, which limits the appeals of an award decision to the person who applied for it.

Another would have removed the court’s ability to sentence a defendant to an original prison term even if the inmate’s time on probation or suspended sentence went beyond the original sentence. One of the new bills restores that authority.