After a brief decline, Rhode Island’s prison population rising again, reports the Providence Journal. Nobody is sure why, but the 4-percent increase means the state must spend an extra $2 million this year. “It is notoriously difficult to predict prison populations,” said Corrections Director A.T. Wall. “The fluctuations are driven by changes in law, policy and practice. If one city or town decides to crack down on drug dealers, the prison might see a spike in inmates. In the last two decades, the prison population in Rhode Island and the rest of the nation has increased dramatically.
For a time, the Rhode Island count dropped after the state public defender started focusing on helping people as they first entered the court system for arraignment. Two lawyers and a social worker concentrated on arraignments at Providence District Court, trying to identify people who had substance-abuse or mental-health problems. As a result, more people are going to treatment instead of prison. Deputy Attorney General Gerald J. Coyne said a likely explanation for the recent increase is that courts are improving the flow of cases. In the summer of 2004, almost one in every four inmates was awaiting trial; the rest had been sentenced. Today, the proportion of people behind bars working their way through the courts is down to one out of every five.