July 31, 2014

Sen. Whitehouse Brings Rhode Island Guest to Criminal Justice Event at White House

Teny Gross from RI’s Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence Traveled to Washington for Roundtable Discussion

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Teny Oded Gross, Executive Director of the Providence-based Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence, were among the participants today at a roundtable discussion about criminal justice reform hosted by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at the White House.  The discussion, which was held in the White House’s Roosevelt room, focused on how to best reform the nation’s criminal justice system in ways that both lower costs and produce better results for public safety, while also preparing people in prison to become productive members of society upon reentry.

Earlier this year Attorney General Holder supported a reduction in prison sentences for low-level drug offenders.  He has also supported efforts to invest in reentry programs and reduce recidivism.  Senator Whitehouse has crafted legislation that would accomplish those goals by allowing some prisoners to earn credits toward time in pre-release custody in return for completing re-entry programs that have been proven to reduce recidivism.  The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year and awaits the consideration of the full Senate.

“Today’s meeting at the White House was an opportunity to discuss how to improve public safety while also making smart reforms to our nation’s prison system, and I thank Attorney General Holder for bringing us all together,” said Whitehouse, who served as Rhode Island’s Attorney General from 1999 until 2003.  “Rhode Island is at the forefront of this effort, which is why I’m working to pass legislation that expands the use of programs that have been shown to work in our state.  I was particularly pleased that Teny Gross was here to share his experience working with Rhode Islanders to promote nonviolence and keep our communities safe.”

Teny Gross’s work at the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence focuses on reducing violence in Rhode Island communities by providing nonviolence trainings in prisons and schools.  The group also works with local law enforcement and hospitals, and engages in direct community outreach through its Streetworkers program, which assigns outreach workers to work in specific neighborhoods that are most at risk for violence.  In addition, the Institute provides direct victim support through its victim’s services department.  Gross and his team work with both victims and perpetrators to help communities heal and prevent future incidents.

“I’m grateful to Senator Whitehouse’s leadership in the field of criminal justice reform,” Gross said.  “Violence is a cause of untold pain in many communities, it shortens life expectancy, and its aftermath is extremely costly to the taxpayer.  We should all take part in reducing all forms of violence, as it affects us all.  The proposals discussed today are all steps in the right direction of reducing violence, incarceration, and recidivism.  With success, we can achieve happier outcomes for families as well as considerable savings to the taxpayer.”

Overflowing prison populations are a major long-term fiscal challenge for the United States.  The federal Bureau of Prisons now spends over $6.7 billion annually, a twentyfold increase since 1980.  And, as Whitehouse wrote in an op-ed for the Providence Journal earlier this year, “the additional dollars we spend on prisons each year may not improve public safety.”

The Rhode Island legislature enacted changes to its criminal justice system in 2008 that were followed by a 9 percent decline in the state’s prison population — as well as a 7 percent decline in the state’s crime rate.  Whitehouse today discussed how his legislation could help achieve similar results nationally, if it becomes law.


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