We write as a coalition of Rhode Island grassroots and advocacy organizations, faith leaders, businesses, and community members in support of Bills S411and H5571, which state that the courts shall grant bail on all probation violations pending a violation hearing.
The courts champion the logic that we, the people, are innocent until proven guilty. Under Rhode Island’s 32F ruling, however, the justice system continually denies people on probation their basic right to due process, violating and incarcerating individuals for “failing to keep the peace”; poorly substantiated accusations; or charges that normally would not warrant jail time. Many of these offenses are related to poverty and substance use, demonstrating the state’s lack of investment in harm-reducing methods of rehabilitation and reintegration.
Our courts legally incarcerate people for up to ten business days awaiting a violation hearing, during which our community members lose employment, housing, and even custody of their children - stability that is hard won for those of us facing discrimination around conviction histories. Our system allows for violations to be cleared only after this period of incarceration, once an individual has already suffered traumatic losses.
By threatening people on probation with incarceration and no real opportunity to contest new charges or the violation, the courts coerce individuals into plea deals and extended sentences. Rhode Island has the second highest probation rate and the third longest average sentence in the country; coupled with our violation process, this means that Rhode Islanders are constantly ensnared in the prison system. Our recidivism rate - the fifth highest nationwide - reflects this. For communities already targeted by poverty and racialized policing, our system strips away the little accountability we can access within the court system.
Is relentless carceral punishment our preferred mode of peacekeeping? If not, Rhode Island is long overdue for change. Allowing Rhode Islanders to fight violations from within their communities, instead of behind bars, is one small step towards reforming our broken probation system.
We call on you to pass Bills S411 and H5571 without delay or amendment.
Direct Action for Rights and Equality
Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance (AMOR)
Black and Pink Providence
Center for Health and Justice Transformation
George Wiley Center
Latino Policy Institute
Michael A. DiLauro, Esq., The Just Criminal Justice Group
New Urban Arts
Reentry Campus Program
RI Association for Addiction Professionals
RI Center for Justice
RI Coalition to End Homelessness
RI Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty
RI Poor People’s Campaign
RI State Council of Churches
RI Womxn's Action Initiative
RI Working Families Party
Showing Up For Racial Justice RI
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team
Stop Torture RI Coalition
Substance Use Policy Education and Recovery PAC
United Way of RI
White Coats For Black Lives, Alpert Medical School Chapter