Governor Raimondo signs executive order creating Juvenile and Criminal Justice Working Groups

Justin Thomas
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As part of her ongoing efforts to reform Rhode Island’s criminal justice system, Governor Gina Raimondo today signed an executive order establishing the Juvenile and Criminal Justice Working Group. The Working Group will be divided into two subcommittees to narrow their focus on juvenile justice and criminal justice, respectively. Chief Judge Michael Forte will chair the juvenile justice subcommittee and Justice Maureen Keough will chair the adult criminal justice subcommittee, while Michael Grey, chair of the Governor’s Workforce Board, will serve as co-chair of both. A full list of members can be found below.

“Justice reinvestment was a critical first step in reforming our criminal justice system, but we still have a great deal of work ahead,” said Governor Raimondo. “I’d like to see the state address barriers to reentry—particularly around employment—and evaluate ways we can better support justice involved youth. I’m grateful to each of the members for agreeing to partake in such important work and I look forward to reading their recommendations later this year.”

When asked, Governor Raimondo went on to say that occupational licensing reform is one of the things that the the Working Group will be looking. Legislation (S0610, H5863) that would have revised the current licensing statutes stalled in the General Assembly this year, despite the efforts of the Fair Chance Licensing Coalition.


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“The working group that I’m putting together includes not just criminal justice people, it includes businesses, job training folks, [and] small business regulators,” said Raimondo. “There are real barriers. We have to work with businesses to make sure that they’ll hire people who have been formerly incarcerated – make it easier for people to get licenses, change requirements so people can get a license. That’s what I mean by barriers.

“You heard form Justin today. He’s talented, he has the desire, but he needed some support. You need a place to live, you need to get a license, you need job training, you need a GED – So that’s exactly what this is all about,” concluded the Governor.

The Justin the Governor referred to is Justin Thomas, who spoke at the press announcement. Thomas was born and raised in Rhode Island, but “big mistakes” led Thomas to serving time in prison. Thomas committed to changing his life and took advantage of reentry programs that would allow him a chance at a job and a real life.

“That reentry programming saved my life, changed my life, and just did something for that, every day I’m trying to give back,” said Thomas.

Through his efforts, Thomas became “the very first felony convicted AmeriCorps VISTA in the state of Rhode Island.”

I spoke with Thomas after the program about occupational licensing reform.

“Fair chance licensing!” said Thomas. “I meant to say that when I got up there but I got shaky and nervous and I thought I was taking too long – but I wanted to say, ‘Please support the Fair Chance Licensing Act. We want men and women to come home and have access to employment that gives a fair wage and allow them the opportunity not to go back, not to go back to the decisions that sent them there in the first place.”

In her first term, Governor Raimondo signed an executive order creating the Justice Reinvestment Working Group to identify ways to relieve pressure on Rhode Island’s correctional system and improve public safety. As a result of that work, the state passed a suite of legislation in 2017 that reduced costs by promoting rehabilitation and informed decision-making in sentencing, probation and parole.

Despite progress made in the last four years, significant work remains, particularly around removing barriers to reentry. Of the 2,700 sentenced offenders released from prison in Rhode Island in 2015, nearly half returned to the Adult Correctional Institutions as sentenced inmates within three years of discharge. Almost a third returned within the first year.

Access to employment has been identified as one of the greatest determinants of an individual’s success after leaving prison and will be a key focus area of the Working Group. Removing barriers to post-incarceration employment reduces recidivism, drives down future costs of corrections, reduces the crime rate, improves public safety, and supports economic growth.

“I’m grateful to the Governor for bringing people with different perspectives and backgrounds to serve on this working group,” said Michael Grey, Chair of the Governor’s Workforce Board. “We know that workforce development plays a key role in successful reentry for juvenile and adult populations alike, and I look forward to working together to ensure that every Rhode Islander can get a good job.”

While previous reforms have not included the juvenile justice system, the Working Group will examine ways the state can improve rehabilitating justice involved youth. The efficacy of the juvenile justice system has a direct impact on the adult criminal justice system. Currently the largest population of inmates committed to the Adult Correctional Institutions are between 20 and 29 years old.

The landscape of juvenile corrections has changed significantly, even in the past decade. The number of juvenile offenses referred to the Family Court has declined by 41 percent since 2010, in large part due to successful diversion and community-based programs. Similarly, the Training School -Rhode Island’s secure correctional facility for detained and sentenced youth – experienced a 68 percent decline in population between 2009 and 2018. The Working Group will examine whether underutilized facilities at the Training School can be repurposed to better support justice involved youth.

“Rhode Island has made significant progress reforming our criminal justice system, but there’s a great deal of work ahead,” said Chief Judge Michael Forte. “I’m proud to co-chair the Governor’s Juvenile & Criminal Justice Work Group and lead this new effort effort to identify barriers for individuals reentering society. We all benefit when people leaving our prisons have a roof over their head and a good job, and it’s imperative that we address factors that contribute to recidivism. I look forward to collaborating with the Working Group on this critical issue.”

The Governor has charged the group with soliciting input broadly, including from victim’s advocates, formerly or currently incarcerated individuals, and youth that are justice involved. The Working Group will begin their work immediately and will issue a report to the Governor that will include:

For the juvenile sub-committee:

  • A thorough review of the juvenile justice system, focusing on factors that lead to entry including but not limited to: race, age, and location.
  • A plan based on the declining numbers at the Training School and best practices based on research surrounding juvenile corrections. This should also include factors for successful transition and reentry for youth.

For the adult sub-committee:

  • A review of the reentry related issues that individuals face upon discharge from incarceration or completion of community supervision.
  • This should include, but not be limited to topics surrounding reintegration into society such as: housing opportunities, employment, including licensing, educational opportunities, and parole considerations and other barriers that exist to reentry.

For both sub-committees:

  • Any suggested policy, administrative, and/or legislative changes to improve our criminal justice system, from both the adult and the juvenile perspectives.
  • Both groups should focus on the role behavioral health plays in justice involved populations and how trauma and mental illness impact them. The group should address how we can help individuals with mental illness and substance use disorder successfully re-enter society.

The report will be submitted to the Governor by the end of the year.

Attorney General Peter Neronha, Senator Michael McCaffrey and Representative Robert Craven
Judge Michael Forte
Governor Gina Raimondo

This piece was created in part with the help of a press release.


The Juvenile and Criminal Justice Working Group members:

Co-Chairs:

  • Chief Judge Michael Forte
  • Justice Maureen Keough
  • Michael Grey

Adult Criminal Justice Subcommittee:

  • Justice Maureen Keough, co-chair
  • Mike Grey, co-chair
  • Chief Justice Paul Suttell
  • Chief Judge Jeanne E. LaFazia
  • Attorney General Peter Neronha
  • Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey
  • Representative Robert Craven
  • Secretary Womazetta Jones
  • Director Patricia Coyne-Fague
  • Director Scott Jensen
  • Rhode Island State Police Colonel Jim Manni
  • Director Rebecca Boss
  • Deputy Director Ana Novais
  • Director Kasim Yarn
  • Director Courtney Hawkins
  • Parole Board Chair Laura Pistauro
  • Public Defender Mary McElroy
  • Jessica Vasquez, Progreso Latino
  • PJ Fox, Nonviolence Institute
  • Caitlin Frumerie, RI Coalition for the Homeless
  • Jennifer Wood, RI Center for Justice
  • Mavis Nimoh, Center for Prisoner Health & Human Rights
  • Captain Henry Remolina, Providence Police
  • Sid Wordell, RI Police Chiefs
  • Dave Chenevert, RI Manufacturer’s Association
  • Dale Venturini, Hospitality Association
  • Andrew Cortes, Apprenticeship RI
  • Rev. Chontell Washington
  • Bishop W. Nicholas Knisely
  • Pastor Erny I. Francisco
  • Jim Vincent, NAACP

Juvenile Justice Subcommittee:

  • Chief Judge Michael Forte, co-chair
  • Mike Grey, co-chair
  • Attorney General Peter Neronha
  • Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey
  • Representative Robert Craven
  • Rhode Island State Police Colonel Jim Manni
  • Larome Myrick, DCYF Juvenile Correctional Services
  • Public Defender Mary McElroy
  • Director Rebecca Boss
  • Deputy Director Ana Novais
  • Director Courtney Hawkins
  • Elizabeth Burke Bryant, RI Kids Count
  • PJ Fox, Nonviolence Institute
  • Jennifer Wood, RI Center for Justice
  • Toby Ayers, RI for Community & Justice
  • Andy Andrade, RI Department of Education
  • Wobberson Torchon, Providence Career and Technical High School
  • Captain Henry Remolina, Providence Police
  • Beth Lemme-Bixby, Tides Family Services
  • Bill Lyttle, the Key Program
  • Toby Shepherd, Nowell Leadership Academy
  • Jim Vincent, NAACP

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About Steve Ahlquist 1084 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com

1 Comment

  1. I’d like to be on one of the committees. I’ve been involved with DOC since 1992. And I spent a decade at the RITS. With my experience and being a license chemical dependency professional(LCDP), I have a lot to offer when it comes to prison reform.

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