District attorney is on the right track with her approach
It would be difficult to find a better example of the role of media coverage as a driver of the mass incarceration that the Globe’s editorial pages so frequently mourn than Sunday’s front-page article on Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins (“Mixed reviews for the Rollins revolution”).
First, cull more than 1,000 cases and find a few anecdotes. Then, do your best to present those anecdotes as grotesque aberrations, without the complex details that responsible prosecutors should consider.
In an example foregrounded in your article, a mentally ill man assaults and badly injures a woman because he believes she is filming him. The victim is notified of the proposed plea bargain, and disagrees. With all of the facts, readers might agree or disagree with the final decision of Rollins’s office. But your portrayal of the case promotes the reflexive path of least resistance — lock him up, and for as long as you can — over the better alternative of thoughtfully weighing the consequences for public safety.
Many prosecutors anticipate this sort of media coverage, and they buckle. I hope that Rollins does not, and that she continues to look at cases carefully.
The writer is a defense lawyer.
Rollins has mandate from voters to address inequities in criminal justice
The July 7 article on Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins is a disappointment. I see it as a biased narrative camouflaged as a research-based expose.
The reporters’ findings are framed with an emphasis on the lurid details of a few individual cases and the views of police officials who (predictably) warn that a new approach to prosecuting low-level crimes will put the public at risk.
Rollins has a mandate from the voters of Suffolk County to implement policy changes that will address inequities in our criminal justice system. She has my support as she undertakes this difficult work. Few other elected officials or political leaders show her courage.
New policy not just unwise — it’s unsafe
Kudos to the Globe and Andrea Estes and Shelley Murphy for their story. As a Boston-area criminal attorney and former prosecutor, I can assure you that Rachael Rollins’s “new policy” of not prosecuting several criminal offenses is not only foolish — it represents a public safety threat. The Globe’s posted recordings of impartial judges’ stunned disbelief in the courtroom reveal just how unwise this policy is. Rollins herself indicated her bias when she stated after being elected that she was going to stop a “freight train moving toward mass incarceration of poor people and black and brown people.”
Rollins uses a claim to formulate a predicate, and conflates effects with cause. High incarceration rates, in and of themselves, do not demonstrate that the convictions were unjust.
While the Globe’s story illustrated how public safety has been affected by this policy, the negative effects don’t stop there. Shoplifting is another crime that Rollins has decided largely no longer to prosecute. What levelheaded person could not conclude that this idea certainly will embolden shoplifters to go to town?
Suffolk County staff prosecutors are not to blame; they’re just following instructions. It is Rollins who is to blame for this fiasco. This does not serve the public interest.
William D. Kickham
Policy favors discretion, but it requires good judgment
Some of District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s reforms, such as making bail affordable for nonviolent offenders and deprioritizing enforcement of drug possession, just make good common sense. Being poor should not be a jailable offense, and minor offenses should not be a pretext for random prosecution or police harassment along racial lines.
However, the DA has it dangerously wrong when it comes to actual crimes against people and their property. Her office’s laxity in prosecuting some of the violent crimes described in the article is simply head-scratching, if not galling. And let’s not underestimate the impact that some so-called nonviolent crimes, such as larceny and opiate drug dealing, have on the well-being of our community.
Not prosecuting people because they have substance abuse problems or other issues all but guarantees that defendants will start to use this “get out of jail free” card. Yes, they too need help. But will we feel safer on our streets and in our homes when this approach is in full bloom?
Rollins wants to use prosecutorial discretion. First, she should demonstrate good judgment.