Rhode Island toughens drug sentencing

Lawmakers who opposed reform targeted by Democratic Party

Rhode Island toughened drug sentencing this year, a move that then emerged as a factor in the state’s Democratic primaries. Dubbed Kristen’s Law, the new legislation created a penalty of up to life in prison for people who sell drugs that lead to a fatal overdose. The Appeal recently published an article by Abdullah Shihipar and Meghan Peterson laying out this law’s pitfalls. “Instead of enacting punitive and likely to be ineffective legislation like Kristen’s Law, we must seriously pursue decriminalization and harm reduction,” they write.

Governor Gina Raimondo defeated challenger Matt Brown in Democrats’ gubernatorial primary. Brown, a former secretary of state who ran to Raimondo’s left, criticized her for signing Kristen’s Law, which he said is “doubling down on mass incarceration.”

Three progressive lawmakers who voted against Kristen’s Law faced primary challenges backed by the leadership of the state Democratic Party. State Representatives Moira Walsh (Providence) and Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Providence) survived, while state Senator Jeanine Calkin (Warwick) lost.

In July, Walsh traced part of the state party’s hostility toward her to her activism against Kristen’s Law. Walsh helped organize a protest against the bill, describing it as “vengeful [and] mean-spirited” and calling for redemption over revenge. “Earlier this week I was at a press conference with Governor Raimondo,” Walsh said at the protest. “While she lamented the children being taken away from their parents at the border, she saw no irony in the fact that she would be signing a law to take other people’s children away today.”

published on July 10, 2018 and updated on Sept. 20, 2018 | Daniel Nichanian