A major pillar of the Providence Community Police Relations Act saw progress last week, when the Providence External Review Authority (PERA), which oversees civilian complaints against the Providence Police Department, as the PERA board selected local lawyer Jose Batista as its executive director.
Jose Batista is a product of the Providence Public Schools. He is a member of a prominent family with a long history of civic engagement and participation in the South Side community who is ready to take on the work involved, even telling the board he would be giving up his private law practice to commit himself completely to it.
PERA was formed in 2002, but was only given the authority it really needed to perform its work with the passage of the Providence Community Police Relations Act in 2017. Batista told The Providence Journal that his priorities for PERA included creating cards for police officers to hand out to the public and to build a website and social media presence for PERA.
Along the lines of criminal justice reform, there was an in-depth feature in the New York Times on a friend and long-time supporter of mine, Bruce Reilly. This reminded me of the work that has been done and the work that still needs to be done on prison reform in our state.
I met Bruce in 2005 through our mutual affiliation with Direct Action for Rights and Equality (D.A.R.E) and while working with Open Doors on the Rhode Island ballot initiative that restored voting rights to formerly incarcerated people. He had been on parole for less than a year at the time, after serving more than a decade in prison. He has since graduated from an elite law school and is working on prison reform initiatives across the United States.
I have always been proud of the work I have done with DARE and Open Doors. With Ward 15 having a higher-than-average population of formerly-incarcerated people, I see it is as a personal responsibility to do what I can to remove barriers to housing, employment and education after incarceration. Besides direct action initiatives like discharge planning and assistance in finding affordable housing, filing taxes, applying for state identification and finding employment, Open Doors works on researching existing policy and fighting for issues like court debt reform, expungement reform and probation reform.