As part of her ongoing efforts to reform Rhode Island’s criminal justice system, Governor Gina M. Raimondo today signed an executive order establishing the Juvenile & Criminal Justice Working Group. The Working Group will be divided into two subcommittees to narrow their focus on juvenile justice and criminal justice, respectively. Chief Judge Michael B. Forte will chair the juvenile justice subcommittee and Justice Maureen Keough will chair the adult criminal justice subcommittee, while Michael Grey, chair of the Governor’s Workforce Board, will serve as co-chair of both. A full list of members can be found here
 
“Justice reinvestment was a critical first step in reforming our criminal justice system, but we still have a great deal of work ahead,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “I’d like to see the state address barriers to reentry—particularly around employment—and evaluate ways we can better support justice involved youth. I’m grateful to each of the members for agreeing to partake in such important work and I look forward to reading their recommendations later this year.” 
 
In her first term, Governor Raimondo signed an executive order creating the Justice Reinvestment Working Group to identify ways to relieve pressure on Rhode Island’s correctional system and improve public safety. As a result of that work, the state passed a suite of legislation in 2017 that reduced costs by promoting rehabilitation and informed decision-making in sentencing, probation and parole.
 
Despite progress made in the last four years, significant work remains, particularly around removing barriers to reentry. Of the 2,700 sentenced offenders released from prison in Rhode Island in 2015, nearly half returned to the Adult Correctional Institutions as sentenced inmates within three years of discharge. Almost a third returned within the first year. 
 
“I’m proud to serve as a co-chair of Governor Raimondo’s Juvenile & Criminal Justice Working Group, and I look forward to working with stakeholders as we identify barriers to reentry,” said Maureen Keough, Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court. “This is critically important work, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”  
 
Access to employment has been identified as one of the greatest determinants of an individual’s success after leaving prison and will be a key focus area of the Working Group. Removing barriers to post-incarceration employment reduces recidivism, drives down future costs of corrections, reduces the crime rate, improves public safety, and supports economic growth.
 
“I’m grateful to the Governor for bringing people with different perspectives and backgrounds to serve on this working group,” said Michael Grey, Chair of the Governor’s Workforce Board. “We know that workforce development plays a key role in successful reentry for juvenile and adult populations alike, and I look forward to working together to ensure that every Rhode Islander can get a good job.”
 
While previous reforms have not included the juvenile justice system, the Working Group will examine ways the state can improve rehabilitating justice involved youth. The efficacy of the juvenile justice system has a direct impact on the adult criminal justice system. Currently the largest population of inmates committed to the Adult Correctional Institutions are between 20 and 29 years old. 
 
The landscape of juvenile corrections has changed significantly, even in the past decade. The number of juvenile offenses referred to the Family Court has declined by 41% since 2010, in large part due to successful diversion and community-based programs. Similarly, the Training School—Rhode Island’s secure correctional facility for detained and sentenced youth—experienced a 68% decline in population between 2009 and 2018. The Working Group will examine whether underutilized facilities at the Training School can be repurposed to better support justice involved youth. 
 
“Rhode Island has made significant progress reforming our criminal justice system, but there’s a great deal of work ahead,” said Chief Judge Michael Forte. “I’m proud to co-chair the Governor’s Juvenile & Criminal Justice Work Group and lead this new effort effort to identify barriers for individuals reentering society. We all benefit when people leaving our prisons have a roof over their head and a good job, and it’s imperative that we address factors that contribute to recidivism. I look forward to collaborating with the Working Group on this critical issue.”
 
The Governor has charged the group with soliciting input broadly, including from victim’s advocates, formerly or currently incarcerated individuals, and youth that are justice involved. The Working Group will begin their work immediately and will issue a report to the Governor that will include: 
 
For the juvenile sub-committee: 
  • A thorough review of the juvenile justice system, focusing on factors that lead to entry including but not limited to: race, age, and location.
  • A plan based on the declining numbers at the Training School and best practices based on research surrounding juvenile corrections. This should also include factors for successful transition and reentry for youth.
For the adult sub-committee: 
  • A review of the reentry related issues that individuals face upon discharge from incarceration or completion of community supervision. 
  • This should include, but not be limited to topics surrounding reintegration into society such as: housing opportunities, employment, including licensing, educational opportunities, and parole considerations and other barriers that exist to reentry.
For both sub-committees: 
  • Any suggested policy, administrative, and/or legislative changes to improve our criminal justice system, from both the adult and the juvenile perspectives.  
  • Both groups should focus on the role behavioral health plays in justice involved populations and how trauma and mental illness impact them. The group should address how we can help individuals with mental illness and substance use disorder successfully re-enter society.  
 
The report will be submitted to the Governor by the end of the year.
 

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