Rhode Island Needs BAIL ON 32!
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 hardwon 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.
Bills S411 and H5571 would require the courts to grant bail on all probation violations pending a violation hearing. As Rhode Islanders, we call on you to pass Bills S411 and H5571 without delay or amendment.