Here are a few absurd facts about RI criminal justice:

  • Stealing $501 worth of gasoline is penalized more harshly than stealing $10,000 of almost anything else.
  • Being a serial graffiti artist could get you a longer prison sentence than being a serial drunk driver.
  • Stealing produce from a farm carries five times the prison sentence as stealing the same amount of produce from a supermarket.

Earlier this week, we released a report about RI lawmaking on crimes and penalties. The result of more than a year of research - we looked at all new “crimes” created in the last 18 years - the report found a disturbing mess of arbitrary, unfair and costly new laws and sentences enacted over the past two decades.  More than this, we found a failure on the part of RI lawmakers to take a systematic and reasonable approach to this issue.

The result? Overcriminalization and mass incarceration in RI: 

  • Between 2000 and 2017, RI created more than 170 new “crimes,” and increased the penalties for dozens of existing offenses.
  • Since 1980, the number of people incarcerated in RI has more than tripled.

Not surprisingly, the impact of this arbitrary approach is felt most heavily by already marginalized groups, including racial and ethnic minorities and young people.

The bottom line is that it’s our lawmakers who decide what behavior becomes a crime, and how that behavior will be penalized. The frightening reality highlighted in this report is that there is no rhyme or reason to the way we currently do this.  This needs to change dramatically, and it needs to change now – and our report offers a number of ways that lawmakers can ensure that happens. Read the report here.