Boston, MA– Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins has been in office for over 100 days now. Last week, WBUR published a summary of the changes she has (and hasn't) implemented so far since her election in November 2018. During her campaign, Rollins claimed that she would decline to prosecute low-level crimes. Notably, she said she would end cash bail and send drug users to treatment instead of prison. In all, Rollins promised to stop prosecution for 15 low-level charges. Recently she has clashed with Governor Charlie Baker over her intention to implement these policy changes.
Rollins released a 65-page policy memo last month outlining her reformer approach to criminal law enforcement, including the list of crimes that would not be prosecuted in the courts. However, volunteer court watchers from the group CourtWatchMA who attend hearings throughout the state to collect data on outcomes have said that little has changed so far. The group is currently focusing on how assistant district attorneys are handling the 15 charges that Rollins said she would decline to prosecute.
Atara Rich-Shea, a spokeswoman for the court watchers, stated, “I think we are finding, unfortunately, that there’s been no shift and no change. Every week, we see the same racial disparities, the same number of prosecutions for charges on [Rollins’] ‘do-not-prosecute’ [list], the same kinds of asking for bail in situations where our understanding [is] that bail would no longer be asked for.”
In her policy memo, Rollins explained that the 15 low-level crimes she would not prosecute were non-violent crimes, and she wanted to bring the focus to more serious offenses. These 15 crimes have been clogging up the judicial system, according to Rollins.
However, Governor Charlie Baker has expressed his disagreement with Rollins' policy to allow low-level crimes to be handled with a fine or other type of punishment, rather than through the court system. Baker stated, “You send a really bad message not just to people who might potentially do those sorts of things, but you send a really bad message to the people who would be on the receiving end of that type of behavior.”
In support of the DA's new policy, Adam Foss, a former Suffolk County assistant district attorney, stated that prosecutors and police officers alike seem eager for Rollins’ changes to be implemented. Foss stated, “There are many police officers in Boston, in the surrounding areas, that I’m sure are excited to do better things with their time than break up families and arrest people for trespassing and for unlicensed motor vehicle operation.”
Rollins' term is set for four years, so there's still time for her policy to take shape in the courts.
Image via Wikimedia Commons / NewtonCourt