Wall bullish on criminal justice reform


A.T. Wall, director of the state Department of Corrections, says fears about appearing soft on crime help to explain why Rhode Island has struggled to move forward with criminal-justice reforms that could save taxpayer money.

Considering this, it's no surprise that he got a chuckle when I shared, off-camera during a taping this morning of WPRI/WNAC-TV's Newsmakers, this well-turned observation from Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox: Elected offcials focus on the three Rs -- revenge, retaliation, and retribution -- because it leads to the fourth R -- reelection.

Be that as it may, Rhode Island has been left in the dust. California, Arizona, and other states have responded to exploding prisons costs by diverting non-violent offenders to drug treatment. Here, though, even with a growing consensus among ACI officials, the General Assembly, and Governor Carcieri about the value of different approaches, moving ahead remains a big challenge. Despite this, Wall said he is hopeful about the outlook for progress.

Tom Mooney has written in the ProJo about Wall's battles with unionized correctional officers at the ACI. When I asked Wall whether unions have undue influence in Rhode Island, he responded by citing the need for the formation of a union when COs at the ACI were facing constant injuries from inmates about 30 years ago. Yet while the officers needed to band together for self-protection at the time, Wall said, they have maintained an outdated siege mentality. "It is time to let go of the old mindset," he said.

The show will be broadcast Sunday, at 5:30 am on WPRI and at 10 am on Fox 64.

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