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Veterans of criminal justice system square off over Suffolk DA’s approach

Rachael Rollins at her January swearing-in.
Rachael Rollins at her January swearing-in.(PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF/FILE)

‘Holistic’ view of cases compromises DA’s key role of seeing justice done

Re “Mixed reviews for the Rollins revolution” (Page A1, July 7): Rachael Rollins, in the name of “social justice reform,” claims that the Suffolk district attorney’s office has been “a freight train speeding toward mass incarceration for 70 years.” In doing so, she ignores the transformative accomplishments of previous DAs Ralph Martin (himself African-American) and Daniel Conley.

Furthermore, to invoke the specter of “mass incarceration” in Massachusetts is ludicrous given that the Commonwealth has the lowest incarceration rate in the United States.

Rollins is placing at risk the moral authority of the law by ignoring the interests of victims who disproportionately come from the very “black and brown” communities she claims to be serving. Allowing the interests of the “defendant and the community” to drive her policy agenda — what has been described as a holistic view — compromises a district attorney’s essential function to see that justice is done.

Justice occurs by fairly holding people to account for the harm they have caused and advocating for dispositions that fairly balance a defendant’s personal culpability (and threat of harm) with the safety of the community and the likelihood of rehabilitation. Ensuring such outcomes in no way requires, as Rollins implies, that defendants’ personal circumstances of background, addiction, and mental health status be ignored. Rather, they are part of the mix that makes justice. But they ought not drive the policy of a prosecutor’s office.

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Lloyd Macdonald

Cambridge

The writer is a former Suffolk County assistant district attorney and Superior Court judge, and was a Ford fellow in criminology at the University of Cambridge in England.

We need more leaders like Rollins who can feel tug of social forces

On behalf of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, we applaud Rachael Rollins for her trailblazing efforts in needed criminal justice reform. Through mass incarceration we have developed a social structure that disproportionately harms people and communities of color by preventing populations from meeting their basic needs.

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We need more leaders in decision-making positions who, like District Attorney Rollins, understand the systemic ways in which social structures disadvantage individuals, the environments that promote health disparities, and the devastating consequences this situation has on crime and public safety.

As social workers, through both clinical care and policy advocacy, we understand individual behavior in light of the environmental context in which that person lives. We work to alleviate the effects of poverty, mental illness, and addiction that fuel many criminal offenses. We recognize factors such as poverty, homelessness, trauma, untreated mental illness, and addiction as root causes of crime.

Social workers hold a variety of roles within the criminal justice system, from providing clinical care and support to victims to treating offenders, and are trained holistically to understand the dualities of victim and perpetrator. We fully support Rollins’s holistic approach to prosecution and her ability to look at situations in their entirety in order to determine what is needed for safer and healthier communities.

She is not hard or soft on crime — she is smart on crime.

Sarah Coughlin

Boston

The writer, a licensed independent clinical social worker, is president of the board of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.