Senate Creates Commission on Reducing Incarceration of Women (6/2021)

November 1, 2021 - 3:16pm

 

Senate to study alternatives to incarceration of women under Kallman bill approved today

STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved a resolution sponsored by Sen. Meghan E. Kallman to study justice reinvestment proposals with an eye toward reducing incarceration of women in Rhode Island.

Currently, the Department of Corrections operates a single women’s prison facility in a building that was built as a maximum-security reintegration center for men. This building lacks programming and recreational space, and the level of security is needlessly high. As of January, there were only around 80 women incarcerated there, resulting in an annual cost of approximately $120,000 each, twice as much as the cost for male inmates.

For all those reasons, the Department of Corrections has proposed closing the facility and sending female inmates out of state.

Senator Kallman’s resolution offers an opportunity to re-examine women’s incarceration as a whole, seeking to address the underlying issues that lead to incarceration and alternative solutions that could better prevent recidivism.

“There are many reasons that this is the moment to consider the future of incarceration for women in our state. By significantly expanding diversion, parole, and re-entry programming, Rhode Island could potentially close its women’s prison and open secure, non-correctional residential facilities, as well as creating a network of halfway houses and transitional houses based in the community and that support community-based treatment,” said Senator Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence). “Instead of the status quo or sending Rhode Islanders out of state, we could better serve public safety as well as the small number of women who become involved in the justice system by considering more effective, less expensive alternatives to incarceration.”

The legislation establishes a 15-member special commission that would include senators, and representatives from the judicial branch, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, the Public Defender’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Parole Board, OpenDoors, the Center for Health and Justice Transformation, the Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island and the Brotherhood of Correctional Officers, as well as a former warden of the women’s prison and a municipal police chief.

Under the resolution, the commission will study “the merits and feasibility of justice reinvestment proposals which provide a clear blueprint for community-driven public safety, recidivism reduction, lowering public safety spending, and long-term sustainability of investments into community resources and that would reduce the number of women incarcerated in Rhode Island, including, but not limited to, analyzing the feasibility of the Department of  Corrections’ proposal to close the women’s facility from the perspective of a commitment to justice reinvestment principles.”

Supporters of the resolution testified during its hearing that there is little need for high security among Rhode Island’s female inmate population. Around half of the 80 women incarcerated earlier this year were only awaiting trial, and half of those women were being held on nonviolent offenses. Only 23 were serving sentences longer than three years.

 “The vast majority of incarcerated women in Rhode Island are struggling with addiction and the repeated incarceration that results from it. They need treatment, first and foremost. Our state also lacks sufficient re-entry programming opportunities for women offenders, most notably re-entry housing. If our goal is truly rehabilitation, we need to shift our resources away from a needlessly large and expensive prison to more effective community supports that offer opportunities to offenders to put their lives on a better trajectory,” said Senator Kallman. “I look forward to the work this commission will do in exploring these alternatives and how they could better serve Rhode Island.”

She added that, in its budget proposal to close its women’s prison and move its female inmates out of state, the Department of Corrections estimated a savings of $4.2 million.

“Imagine the kinds of services we could offer for $4.2 million,” she said. “It would be an investment in saving lives as well as making our communities safer for everyone.”

 

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