The League of Women Voters of Rhode Island supports:
An adult Correctional System that will include adequate facilities for inmates having all levels of security requirements.
In particular, we are concerned that:
1. Inmates who are awaiting trial should be confined apart from sentenced inmates.
2. There should be a separate facility or area where newly sentenced inmates can be confined while their needs are determined. At the same time, the state must make a commitment to develop the treatment programs necessary for fulfilling those needs.
3. There should be a high security facility for confining inmates dangerous to the community or to other inmates.
4. Enough positions should be available in lower security facilities (medium, minimum and work release) to provide flexibility and allow the inmates to move through the system towards lower security. This procedure will provide a gradual reintroduction of the inmate into the community.
5. There should be facilities for treatment of inmates with severe emotional or psychological problems.
Our current top priority for new facilities should not include a new high security prison, although one should perhaps be built at a later date. We feel that alternatives such as those suggested by the American Justice Institute consultants have not been adequately explored. We recommend that the $7.5 million already available be used to:
1. Renovate exiting facilities to provide more minimum and work release positions; these could be on the grounds of the old Boys Training School
2. Make sufficient renovations on at least part of the current maximum-security unit to ensure adequate security. Such renovations have already been planned as a temporary measure until the planned new high-security unit (which we oppose) is built. At the same time, the state should investigate the current security procedures and security training for correctional officers. The American Justice Institute indicated that security experts could be made available for this purpose at no cost to the state. We should explore this position fully.
3. Build a new facility for inmates awaiting trial; if feasible this building could also house a diagnostic unit.
This arrangement will provide a sufficient flexibility to allow reorganization of inmate populations so as to open at least part of the medium security building to protective custody and the overflow of maximum awaiting trial inmates as is done now.
The League supports a Juvenile Correctional System that concentrates on placing juveniles in community-based. privately run facilities.
1. More group homes should be established in Rhode Island to provide community based care. If possible. some of those homes should be able to care for youngsters needing a high security environment. including those emotionally disturbed children now sent to out-of-state facilities. Whenever possible, juveniles should be sent to in-state facilities.
2. Group homes should be privately run; children should be placed in the home under purchase of services arrangements by the state.
3. The state should determine minimum standards for group homes and should conduct frequent evaluations of all group homes to which they assign children to ensure that the homes are providing treatment and facilities commensurate with the cost.
4. Follow-up evaluations should be done of all children placed by the Family Court or by the Department of Corrections to determine if individual treatment programs are effective.
5. The state should make a major effort to educate the public to the need for non-institutionalfacilities and programs; in this way, the public will be prepared to accept such facilities and programs in their own communities.
6. The foster care program should be expanded. This will involve an increase in the stipend for foster parents to a more adequate level and an expanded training program for inexperienced foster parents.
7. The state should continue to maintain a maximum-security unit for those incorrigible youths who cannot be placed in group homes.
The League believes that the therapeutic, educational and other programs in state and private facilities serving adult and juvenile offenders should be improved and intensified to meet their individualn eeds. These improvements should include, but not be limited to:
- more adequate medical treatment, including an intensive drug treatment program;
- additional psychiatric counseling;
- more adequate educational programs, particularly remedial program;
- extensive vocational training programs;
- additional employment opportunities that would pay inmates.
- introduction of innovative projects such as Mutual Agreement Programming in which the offender and the prison staff agree on both a program for the inmate and a release date when the program is completed; this allows a prisoner to maintain greater control over his or her future.
For juveniles we additionally advocate:
- establishment of an outpatient diagnostic service to help those children on the waiting list for the two residential diagnostic facilities:
- more programs for children with learning disabilities and reading problems:
- expansion of the highly successful diversionary programs. such as Youth Services Bureau, Juvenile Parole Unit;
- expansion of the minimal program available at the Youth Correctional Center at the Training School.
The League supports the establishment of independent commissions outside of the Department of Corrections to set standards for operation of the prison facilities. We would prefer to have a federal group determine guidelines and have a state group provide more specific standards and goals for the Department. Both federal and state bodies should contain representatives from inside and outside the correctional system.
The League supports recognition of the offender as an individual with basic human rights commensurate with constitutional rights except as necessary for the protection of offenders and society. Those rights include, but are not limited to, healthful conditions, due process, and humane treatment.
To ensure that these rights are protected, we recommend that an ombudsman or advocate position be established. This position could be an unpaid one filled by appointment. In either case, adequate precautions must be taken to guarantee that the advocate is independent of the Department and free from political pressures. The advocate should have access to all individuals and records necessary for the task of investigating grievances of staff or inmates.
The League believes that the women offenders deserve opportunities equal to those given men offenders. In particular, the women should have a wider range of facilities offered to them than is now the case. Because of the small number of women currently confined, this may necessitate a greater use of community-based alternatives to incarceration. We recommend that the women's unit have a separate budget from the men's' units to allow greater control by the Deputy Warden over the allocation of resources for the women's programs.
Personnel in the Correctional System often fill sensitive positions that demand capabilities beyond academic abilities or knowledge. In particular. those directly in contact with adult or juvenile offenders must be able to deal effectively with people who are often difficult to handle. Staff members must maintain self-control and concern for inmate welfare despite those trying circumstances. For this reason it is essential that personnel be well qualified for their jobs. We recommend that more attention be placed on finding suitable staff members and, perhaps more importantly, on adequately training them for their positions. Initial orientation and in-service training programs should be expanded. Evaluation of personnel should be a continuous process. Furthermore. we feel that additional precautions should be taken in hiring of the particularly sensitive positions of Youth Home Life Supervisors and House Parents. at the children's institutions. Specifically, the probation period of six months before new employees become part of the classified service is inadequate to fully determine their ability to handle the job. We recommend that this probation period be extended to at least one year.