Why Does RI Hand Out Insanely Long Probation Sentences?

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Eight years probation (plus four months in jail) for stealing a bus pass???

Nearly a decade ago, Providence resident Edward Coulter was sentenced to 4 months prison and 8 years probation for stealing a bus pass.

As of 2015, Rhode Island has the third highest probation rate.

Why? Is it a way to grab money from the defendant? While troubling in concept, this doesn’t seem like a reasonable explanation: the probation fee in RI is $20/month (as of a 2004 document). Not only can the defendant apply to have it waived for “unreasonable financial hardship” but, even if it were collected from all probation defendants, it doesn’t seem like it would add up to nearly enough money to fund the costs of the probation program itself.

Is it make-work to increase government jobs? This seems more likely, especially as, with such long probation sentences, it increases the likelihood of a probation violation, which results in the defendant going to jail

Since then, there have been additional violations, which have doubled his probation sentence.

and you get the “bonus” of more prison FTE’s

… nearly one-third of people locked up in the ACI are behind bars because of a probation violation.

on top of the extra FTE’s needed to administer absurdly long probation sentences.

Whatever the answer, the current probation system is obscene and injust and badly in need of reform. By the way, shame on all state officials, including specifically legislators, who have known about this for years but did not act to reform it … and have failed once again this year to implement reform. (For the record, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed is NOT in this category; the last-minute scrapping by House leadership of a suite of reform bills appears to be why she got upset during the General Assembly’s long final day Friday into Saturday.)



  • Rhett Hardwick

    I think it quite possible that “probation” is necessary because there are not enough jail cells. That does not mean that the system does not need fixing.

  • Raymond Carter

    Abba said it best 4 decades ago:
    “Money, Money, Money”. Money for the crony’s and the defense lawyers. The worst “crime” in RI any defendant can commit is to have the temerity to demand a trial.

  • helen

    Who handed down the sentence?

  • Max

    Rhett hit the nail on the head. This state is a joke when it comes to the judicial system. People will tell you that decriminalization of marijuana was huge but it was already decriminalized by the judges in this state. One year filings on top of one year filings all getting removed from records upon completion. Every subsequent arrest was a first offense. The same happens with domestic violence and shoplifting cases.

    My all time favorite case years ago was a 17 year-old charged with armed robbery with a firearm and given a 15 year suspended sentence. He re-offends with in two years with another firearm and his 15 year suspended sentence was rolled into an 8 year sentence with 5 to serve. This was no broken home project kid. He was born and raised in Smithfield by two loving parents and attended Smithfield Public Schools.

    We closed a prison a few years back. It was the one time I had to agree with the correctional officers union. Even though they were only out for themselves, they pointed out that very bad people will not be going to jail.

    Having one-third of people locked up in the ACI because of a probation violation is a great talking point but you have to be pretty bad to get locked up in this State.

    We’re a joke.

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