CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Probation and parole violations contribute to nearly 40% of prison admissions in Rhode Island, according to new report released by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center.
The report, released Tuesday, said on any given day more than 650 people are incarcerated in Rhode Island as the result of a supervision violation.
The CSG found those violations accounted for 38% of Rhode Island’s prison admissions in 2017. The report also said 29% of people incarcerated at the state prison last year were behind bars because of supervision violations, the 14th highest percentage in the U.S.
It’s a vast improvement from where the state stood in 2015, when an estimated 64% of prison admissions were because of parole and probation violations, according to the CSG.
David D’Amora, a CSG senior policy advisor who worked on implementing recent criminal justice reforms in Rhode Island, said the state wasn’t in a good place four years ago, with the second highest probation rate in the nation: 2,793 per 100,000 residents, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“When you compared that to other states across the country, you had more than three times the number of people under community supervision for the same kinds of crimes,” D’Amora told Eyewitness News.
At the time, one out of 20 adult men were on probation in Rhode Island. Now, according to the most recent R.I. Department of Corrections (RIDOC) data, one out of every 51 adults in Rhode Island is on probation or parole: one out of every 29 men and one out of every 163 women.
D’Amora said having a large number of people on probation or parole means fewer resources are being dedicated to offenders who really need to be supervised.
“It is not a good thing to be second highest,” he said. “When you have all of those folks on supervision, [and] you only have so may resources, it stretches those resources thin and it doesn’t allow supervisors to spend the necessary time and energy on those people who really do need to be supervised.”
The study released by CSG Tuesday estimates that parole and probation violations are costing Rhode Island $54 million a year, but RIDOC staff dispute that number. The CSG said the figure is based on the assumption that violators will spend at least 365 days behind bars; RIDOC said the average stay for probation and parole violators is 199 days, and only 13% of violators spend a year or more locked up.
The annual cost of housing an inmate varies depending on the facility, from $58,943 at the medium security facility to $183,411 at high security.
- RIDOC Report: See which cities and towns have the greatest number of people on probation or parole
- CSG Report: How many RI prisoners are parole violators?
According to RIDOC data, Rhode Island had close to 24,000 people on probation in 2015.
In 2014, RIDOC estimated that if nothing changed, the state’s prison population would grow 11% by 2025, requiring the state to spend an additional $28 million.
In 2016 and 2017, Rhode Island made reforms through the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative,” including putting a cap on probation for nonviolent offenses and establishing early termination for supervision for low-risk, compliant offenders. The CSG Justice Center was closely involved in crafting the legislative package.
Data provided by the state shows the number of people on probation as of last year dropped to under 22,000.
J.R. Ventura, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said the department is encouraged by the progress being made in the wake of those reforms.
“Working with our partners in the criminal justice and behavioral health systems, we have seen a reduction in recidivism rates and are taking part in interventions that keep people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place,” Ventura said. “We also recognize there is still more work to be done and are continuously looking for ways to better serve our community and keep Rhode Islanders safe.”
According to data from RIDOC, the sentenced prison population has decreased by 12% since the Justice Reinvestment Initiative began in 2015. The state projects to have 123 fewer people imprisoned by 2022, and to avert $8.1 million in costs by the same year.
“It’s not that suddenly there’s a pot of money that didn’t exist previously,” D’Amora said. “It’s that the additional costs that would have been coming down the pike have been averted.”
That money would have been spent on additional staff or buildings to house an increasing number of prisoners, he said.
D’Amora said there’s still more work to be done, but he feels Rhode Island has made progress.
“The big takeaway is that Rhode Island has really made the appropriate initial strides to target their supervision so that they are providing supervision to those who most need it,” D’Amora said
Note: While Rhode Island was previously ranked as the state with the second-highest rate of probation, the CSG declined to rank states in the new report released Tuesday, citing the types of data available and the different ways states treat supervision.