Rhode Island

In 2015, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections projected that after years of steady decline, the state’s incarcerated population would grow 11 percent by FY2025, at an estimated cost to the state of $28 million dollars in additional operating and staffing costs.

To address this challenge, state leaders from all three branches of government requested technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center to analyze the state’s criminal justice data, interview stakeholders from across the criminal justice system, and collaborate with the state’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group to develop data-driven policy options designed to reduce spending on corrections and increase public safety.

Analyses conducted by the CSG Justice Center revealed that the state’s outdated probation system significantly contributes to the number of people incarcerated. In FY2015, one-third of pretrial admissions to incarceration were for people who violated their probation conditions, and over half of sentenced admissions to incarceration are probation violators. People released from Rhode Island’s correctional facilities—known collectively as the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI)—and sentenced to post-release probation serve terms that are three times longer than the national average. Rhode Island has the second-highest probation rate mostly due to the exceptionally large number of people on probation and the lengthy terms they are serving. As a result, probation officers are overwhelmed and are unable to provide meaningful supervision that reduces recidivism and improves public safety.

In December 2015, the CSG Justice Center presented policy options to the working group, which were further developed and refined into proposed legislation. The resulting policy framework was meant to, in part:

  • Modernize sentencing and probation supervision polices;
  • Focus probation supervision resources on high-risk, high-needs people and expand community-based programs to reduce recidivism;
  • Assess defendants to inform diversion opportunities and pretrial supervision conditions; and
  • Improve services to victims throughout the criminal justice system.

In April and May of 2016, legislative leaders introduced six bills based on this framework into the Senate and the House. At the same time, the Superior Court worked through the spring to draft proposed changes to court rules and sentencing benchmarks that would increase the standard of proof for probation violations, establish a presumptive probation term of three years for people convicted of certain offenses, and create a mechanism by which people who have complied with the terms of their probation may petition the court for shortened terms.

On June 14 the Senate unanimously passed all six bills as well as a justice reinvestment resolution, but the 2016 General Assembly session was ended before these bills came up for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Lawmakers have committed to reintroducing the legislation in the next session, and the budget passed by the General Assembly included $893,000 in up-front investments for the Department of Corrections to begin modernizing and improving the state’s probation system by hiring additional probation officers and providing training, among other measures. 

Additionally, on June 22, the Supreme Court announced the passage and adoption of rules and sentencing benchmark changes, effective immediately, which will, in part, cap probation terms for nonviolent offenses at three years and will create a way for people to petition to have their probation terms reduced.

Publications & Presentations

Working Group Presentation: Policy Development Workshop

Working Group Presentation: Policy Development Workshop

This presentation summarizes the comprehensive data analysis and intensive stakeholder engagement that was offered at previous working group meetings, focuses on the top three challenges to Rhode Island’s adult criminal justice system, and includes points of discussion on how to address these challenges.

Access to Public Records Act Information
The Justice Reinvestment Working Group has established the following procedures regarding inspection and copying of public records under R.I. General Laws § 38-2-1 et seq., commonly known as the Access to Public Records Act: requests for public records of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group should be made to the Office of the Governor in accordance with the procedures established by the Office of the Governor. Please visit the APRA Request page for more information.