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RI Senate passes criminal justice reform bills

The Rhode Island Senate has approved a package of criminal justice reform bills emphasizing mental health treatment over incarceration.

Supporters say the measures would help decrease the state's high probation rate.

The Senate unanimously passed the seven-bill package of reforms Thursday. One would set up a program for people with mental illness charged with minor crimes to be diverted to counseling instead of jail. Another bill would create a batterer's intervention program.

The bills now move to the state House of Representatives.

Democratic Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed has called the legislation a top priority. She has moved for swift passage because similar legislation died last year after getting stalled in the House.

The legislation emerged from the findings of a 2015 criminal justice reform working group.

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