When the steady rise in population counts at Rhode Island prisons hit an all time high of 4,000 last fall, Corrections Director A.T. Wall knew the system was headed for trouble, says the Providence Journal. Prison services at all levels were strained and the facilities were running out of beds. Rhode Island's Criminal Justice Oversight Commission had much the same fear. The result was a sweeping proposal now making its way through the General Assembly to change, for the first time in almost 50 years, the way the state awards inmates time off their sentences for good behavior and participation in rehabilitation programs. Drafted by a working group representing all three branches of government, the plan standardizes the way Rhode Island awards its time-incentive credits and brings it in line with other states.
Currently, well-behaved inmates can shave up to 10 days per month off their prison stays under a formula that is tied to the number of years of their sentence. Many agree that the current system is backwards. Inmates serving more time, presumably for more serious crimes, are eligible to accrue more days toward early release than low-level offenders such as shoplifters. The new policy would offer all inmates with the exception of sex offenders the chance to start earning up to 10 days per month, with an additional five days a month off for participation in treatment programs. The move is expected to reduce the prison's overall population by about 211 next year. It would also save $1 million in 2009 and $22 million over the next decade – an attractive option given the state's deficit and the recent report showing that Rhode Island spends more per inmate than any other state. Last year, at least five states amended their good-time policies to cut costs and reduce overcrowding, says the National Council of State Legislatures.