Rhode Island Urgently Needs a Justice Budget
The Rhode Island Center for Justice supports the 2020 Justice Budget platform, which calls for equitable budgeting, fair taxes, and improved social safety nets in a balanced economy. We call on legislators and state leaders to pass the provisions in the Justice Budget and make Rhode Island a state of shared prosperity for all.
Economic stability is at the core of the Center for Justice’s work. The Justice Budget recognizes that economic justice combats gross inequity, and gives those who are vulnerable the means to support themselves.
COVID-19 has decimated Rhode Island’s economy, and the Economic Progress Institute has identified “an estimated revenue shortfall of at least $617.7M for FY2021.” The proposed Justice Budget, grounded in principles of economic justice, is critical to ensuring that vulnerable Rhode Islanders are supported during and after COVID, and are included in the state’s economic recovery.
The Justice Budget would ensure that workers are compensated fairly, and that those who are out of work or in transition are still able to live a quality life. It would raise the state minimum wage to $15, provide standard hazard pay for essential workers, and raise income taxes on the top 1% of earners. It will also expand Rhode Island’s unemployment insurance to match federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and increase state funding for social safety nets.
Safe, stable, affordable housing is a human right. The Center for Justice believes that all Rhode Islanders must have what they need to thrive, and this includes quality, sustainable, and affordable housing for all residents.
Among the most vital social safety nets that the Justice Budget would support is access to housing. It would allocate at least $8 million of the 2021 budget to affordable housing, including maintaining revenue for rental vouchers and hotel costs for those who are experiencing homelessness, as well as the affordable housing bond in FY21. The budget would also make sure that funding is available to support individuals released from prison, including those for whom a lease or other housing accommodation is a prerequisite for being released on parole.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted in even more stark terms the links between incarceration, income inequality, and public health. The Center for Justice supports the redirection of state funds from criminalization and incarceration to cost-effective, community-based programs that improve public safety and quality of life.
Criminal justice is an essential part of economic reform in Rhode Island, especially while COVID continues to wreak havoc on the state. Mass incarceration is directly at odds with social distancing guidelines, is extremely costly at the expense of social services, and disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color. The Justice Budget is grounded in principles of justice reinvestment, which redirects carceral funding into interventions that reduce the need for costly police and prison budgets.
Rhode Island could save millions of dollars by closing the High Security facility, which houses prisoners in long-term solitary confinement at the cost of $200,000 per detainee. The state would realize additional cost savings by implementing geriatric parole, expediting parole for those nearing release, and ending detention for technical violations of parole and probation. Those funds could be reinvested in education, healthcare and mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and affordable housing, which will improve public safety while saving the state money.
The Justice Budget is not just a proposal for temporary social reform. We do not aim to return to a pre-COVID world, nor do we want our current crisis to become a “new normal.” Rather, we see this as an opportunity to build the foundations for a better, more equitable Rhode Island.
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