Rhode Island legislators are doing something about the size of the state's prison population, which continues to set records in terms of the number of inmates and the cost to taxpayers, says the Providence Journal. Lawmakers appear poised to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug charges. They may also act on measures designed to cut down on debt-related incarceration and prevent the state from imprisoning people on probation violations if they're not convicted of the crime that constituted the violation. They are fast-tracking a new proposal to reward inmates for good behavior.
Under current law, if someone who's already on probation is convicted of a new crime, that constitutes a violation of their probation terms and they can be imprisoned for the entire length of their earlier sentence, minus whatever time they have already served in prison. Another pending bill would create guidelines for judges to release prisoners who don't have enough money to pay their court fines and fees. Unpaid court fines and fees are “the single largest cause of pre-trial commitments” to adult prisons, accounting for 2,000 incidents a year and costing the state $500,000 annually, says the Rhode Island Family Life Center, a Providence nonprofit that assists inmates after their release. In 15 percent of these cases, the state spends more to keep the person in prison than the amount the person owes.