Got probation reform? Documentary makes the case

Ariel returns to the pages of the Phoenix with a look at Stronger than Their Walls, the Family Life Center's new documentary about the need for probation reform and the word on some upcoming screenings.

A precondition for state inmates' release to probation is their promise to "preserve the peace and be of good behavior." The mere accusation or suspicion of a new offense, therefore, is enough for the judge at a violation hearing — which occurs before the trial for a new charge — to send an individual back to the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) for the length of their original sentence.

"They can violate you in this state for doing practically nothing" says Phil Jackson, "I'm a perfect example: I'm doing seven years [at the ACI]; my charge was dismissed." ...

Next week, the Rhode Island Family Life Center for Ex-Offenders (RIFLC) will screen a documentary, Stronger Than Their Walls: Guilty Though Proven Innocent, which chronicles the stories of several men incarcerated on charges for which they were never actually convicted, as well as the experiences of their wives, children, and communities.

One such story is that of Richard Beverly, who had served five years of his seven-and-a-half year probation sentence when he was named an accomplice in a breaking and entering charge. Beverly was violated and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years at the ACI. When his new charge went to trial, 18 months into Beverly's incarceration, 911 tapes revealed that he had not been present at the scene of the crime. His violation stood, however, and he spent three years at the ACI for a crime he did not commit before becoming eligible for parole.

The documentary, which was produced, directed, edited, and shot by RIFLC's Nick Horton along with Julia Liu, Jon Mahone, and Keith Heyward, will be screened on Tuesday, December 9 at 6 pm at the Family Life Center (841 Broad St, Providence) and at 7:30 pm at the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association (199 Camp St, Providence), and on December 18 at 7 pm at Providence Black Rep, 276 Westminster St.

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