Status Brief: Criminal Justice Planning In RI

RI has failed to create statewide goals or measures for the administration of justice across law enforcement, corrections and judiciary agencies. For such a large public investment, Rhode Islanders deserve more coordination, intention, and accountability.  In early 2022, CHJT released a report about the lack of statewide criminal justice planning in RI. This report highlighted the need for an inter-agency strategic plan to improve public health and community safety, reduce costs and harm caused by the justice system, and improve statewide outcomes. We believe Rhode Islanders deserve a justice system that is fair, effective, and efficient.  This follow up brief offers recommendations for RI to address the planning gaps between its justice agencies and other statewide planning efforts.

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RI's Criminal Legal System Investment

Our state’s positions and values on criminal legal system reform are reflected in the state budget. The budget sets the financial priorities for Rhode Island, and in doing so makes an implicit statement about our commitments. How much do we invest in justice agencies and how much do we invest in community-based services? How much do we invest in crime prevention vs. crime response? How much do we invest in healing victims of harm and how much do we invest in trying to create new pathways for people who’ve harmed others?

At the Center for Health and Justice Transformation, we believe that these are the kinds of questions Rhode Island is inherently answering when it decides where to put our state dollars. We also believe there should be more robust dialogue in Rhode Island about what our communities think about the answers. Every year, we will publish a budget summary using a criminal justice lens to start that conversation.

For our inaugural budget summary, we a providing an overview of new funding being allocated to agencies and projects related to three categories: (1) criminal justice infrastructure, (2) community investments, and (3) opioid and other substance use programming. If you have ideas for how this document should evolve in future years, please share them with us at: [email protected].

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Criminal Justice Planning In Rhode Island

The State of Rhode Island spends millions of general revenue dollars each year to support its administration of justice, in addition to receiving and spending millions of federal dollars; yet there is no current strategic plan that guides this
spending from year to year.

For more than a decade, RI has
been lacking sustained leadership, strategy and collaboration across state agencies that serve individuals involved in the justice system. This has resulted in static recidivism rates, missed financial opportunities, fragmented and unaccountable approaches to justice reform, and a lack of data-informed policymaking. As a consequence of the State’s lack of planning, there is no clear statewide vision or long-term goals for RI’s criminal justice system.

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The True Cost

Across the United States, tens of millions of Americans are in debt to their local and state criminal justice systems due to costs associated with criminal convictions. While there is no mechanism for collecting national data on criminal justice debt, state level data indicates that billions of dollars are owed to courts and corrections agencies nationwide. A significant portion of this debt will ultimately go unpaid despite the staggering negative impacts nonpayment has on people’s lives, implying that nonpayment is generally the result of inability to pay. But while there is a growing critical discussion about the legal and economic impacts of criminal justice debt, less attention has been paid to the devastating health impacts of these legal financial obligations. 

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Physician–Public Defender Collaboration — A New Medical–Legal Partnership

Involvement in the criminal justice system is one of the most fundamental upstream determinants of health. Fortunately, a model for helping patients navigate legal issues that negatively affect their health does exist in medicine: the medical–legal partnership.