End Debtor's Prisons in Rhode Island

Every year, thousands of individuals sit in the Rhode Island jail not for crimes, but because they owe money to the state. Court debt is the most common reason that people are put in jail in Rhode Island--about 2,500 times a year. This incarceration is unnecessary and overly hasty, is an inefficient use of state finances, and disrupts peoples' lives. Rhode Island's system of court debt is considerably more punitive, more costly to defendants, and less accomodating to indigent individuals than other New England states. OpenDoors encourages policymakers to end the incarceration of the poor for inability to pay court fines.


* The most common reason people in RI are put in jail is court debt--17% of all jailings and almost 2,500 incidents a year.
* One third of those people sit in jail for over three days and 11% spend more than a week
* 11 people sat in jail for over two weeks in 2007 for court debt
* In 15% of the cases, the state spends more on jail time than is owed
* Total costs to the state are about $500,000 per year for incarceration of defendants
* Many of these people are homeless, mentally or physically disabled, and unemployed

Learn More:

Court Debt and Related Incarceration in Rhode Island from 2005 through 2007

Released: April 2008, (pdf)

Status of Relevant Legislation: PASSED

POLICY BRIEF: Jailing the Poor: Court Debt and Incarceration in Rhode Island

Released: 2008 (pdf)

Status of Relevant Legislation: PASSED

Recommendations include:
• Take ability to pay into account when assessing court debt.
• Employ a variety of collection methods before resorting to incarceration.
• Accept smaller bails from individuals picked up on warrants.
• Reduce the maximum amount of time people are held in jail awaiting ability to
pay hearings to 48 hours

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