Senate passes package of justice reinvestment bills on offenses, expungement and fiscal impact


STATE HOUSE — As part of its continuing efforts at justice reinvestment, the Senate on Tuesday passed a package of bills introduced by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) and Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) designed to identify new ways to relieve pressures on the correctional system, promote diversion and rehabilitation, and increase public safety.

The first bill (2021-S 0188A) would amend the Uniform Controlled Substances Act and reclassify simple possession of 10 grams or less of certain controlled substances as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

“Downgrading simple possession from felony to misdemeanor is a part of the comprehensive, data-driven reforms the Senate has been spearheading,” said Senator McCaffrey, who sponsored the legislation. “The changes will allow us to focus jail resources on more serious offenders. Justice reinvestment saves money through lower incarceration rates, makes communities safer by making offenders less likely to reoffend, and has the potential to transform lives of individuals who need treatment, not incarceration.”

The second bill (2021-S 0503) would allow for the sealing of records pertaining to cases for which a person is acquitted or otherwise exonerated from a charged offense and eliminates the $100 fee for the expungement of a criminal record.

“The $100 filing fee to process expungements is really cost-prohibitive for so many people who are just trying to get back on their feet,” said Senator Euer, who sponsored the legislation. “This legislation will make sure that the expungement process is accessible to those who maybe don’t have the financial means to get their lives back on track.”

The third bill (2021-S 0541) would establish that all future legislation having an effect on the revenues, expenditures, fiscal liability, bed space, staff, supervision caseloads or programs of the Department of Corrections, excepting appropriation measures carrying specified dollar amounts, would be accompanied by a financial impact statement that sets forth the estimated dollar effect if enacted.

“As we take a closer look at our justice system and ways to reinvest, it is imperative that lawmakers have a clear picture of the financial impact that each policy change has on our prisons,” explained Senator McCaffrey.

“It’s time we recognize — like many states have — that simple drug possession is not felony conduct,” said Attorney General Peter F. Neronha. “This common-sense reform — along with eliminating the $100 fee it costs a Rhode Islander to expunge their criminal record — will reduce the impact that drug addiction or a conviction can have on their ability to get a job, find housing, and turn their life around. I am grateful to Majority Leader McCaffrey and Senator Euer for sponsoring these bills and the Rhode Island Senate for their work on these critical criminal justice reform issues.”

The measures now head to the House of Representatives, where similar legislation has been introduced. Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence) has sponsored the companion bill (2021-H 6083) to the controlled substances legislation, and Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren) has sponsored the companion bill (2021-H 5084) to the expungement legislation.



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