Rachael Rollins on vindication of her decline-to-prosecute policy 

Rachael Rollins made headlines during her 2018 run for Suffolk County district attorney when she said, if elected, the office would not prosecute those charged with a set of 15 lower-level misdemeanor offenses and focus its energy on more serious crimes. Rollins said the criminal justice system spends too much time on cases that end up pulling minor offenders into the system, tripping them up with endless court dates that make holding a job difficult, assessing fines and fees that they have trouble paying. Contrary to the idea of prosecution as a deterrent, she and other reform advocates say pursuing these cases often becomes a recipe for recidivism. 

A study released a week ago by a research team led by Anna Harvey, director of the Public Safety Lab at New York University, dug into more than 15 years of data in Suffolk County and concluded that Rollins was right. Defendants not prosecuted for lower-level nonviolent misdemeanors faced 65 percent fewer misdemeanor arrests over the next two years and 75 percent fewer felony arrests than those who were prosecuted for similar charges. 

What’s more, Harvey said this week on The Codcast, the biggest effects were seen among first-time defendants. “So the beneficial effects for defendants of not being prosecuted seemed to be the largest for people who hadn’t already built up a record in the criminal justice system,” she said.

Rollins prominently promoted a non-prosecution approach to lower-level offenses that had, in fact, already been the practice in about a third of cases under her predecessor, Dan Conley. She increased the share of these cases not prosecuted by 15 to 20 percent, and the research study showed similar effects, with these added defendants not facing new charges at much lower rate than defendants with comparable cases who faced prosecution. 

Rollins, the first black woman to be elected district attorney in the state, said she had no reservations about giving Harvey and her colleagues access to data to conduct the analysis.

“I think it’s really important that when we propose alternatives or new things, that we are willing to look and see whether they work,” Rollins said on The Codcast. “I’ve found that there are people that love speaking about the good old days, but don’t have any data to support the good old days. I come from a community where we have not been successful or reaped the benefits of privilege and opportunity and wealth, like many people do in the criminal legal system. So we were going to look at things differently, and I think I had to be open to seeing whether I was right or wrong and adapting appropriately.”

Rollins said many of those facing charges for shoplifting, larceny, or one of the other charges on her list of 15 are dealing with mental health issues, substance use disorder, a housing crisis, or other problems that the criminal legal system does a poor job addressing. Looking for alternatives to prosecution, rather than filling district courts with these cases, she said can be “more fiscally responsible and smarter on crime.”  

Contrary to what she seemed to initially suggest, Rollins has not implemented a wholesale policy of waiving prosecution of lower-level misdemeanors, an idea some public safety leaders and other prosecutors had sounded alarms over.

She has increased the share of cases not prosecuted, but more than 40 percent of the cases on her list still move forward in the courts. Rollins said her goal has been to “flip” the presumption and ask frontline prosecutors to consider in each case whether moving forward with charges is the best approach. 

“I think doing it now with my comms team, I might’ve worded that a little different,” she said of her campaign declaration. 

Has she heard from any critics of her policy since the study came out that seems to support its basic premise? 

“I guess my phone not ringing is them calling,” Rollins said. She vowed to continue “to try to keep Suffolk County as safe as possible and to have conversations with people that are willing to think creatively about being smart on crime, as opposed to saying, you know, in 1871, when I first became DA, this is the way we did it, and we’re going to keep doing it that way… We’re happy with the data and we are not going to shy away from the data, but the most important thing is, had the data shown something different, had they shown, let’s say, a massive spike or increase in recidivist behavior if we don’t prosecute, we would be adapting right now.” 

MICHAEL JONAS

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

It has been more than a year since Temple Beth Zion, a nondenominational Jewish synagogue in Brookline, closed its physical doors. The synagogue started holding daily prayer services for the first time conducted entirely online. It began running virtual programs morning, afternoon, and evenings – prayers, classes, and social events. And then a surprising thing happened as the temple did its best to make up for the shutdown of in-person services: The 400-household congregation gained 43 new members. Zoom is transforming religious services across all denominations, and Rev. Ray Hammond says the “vurch” (virtual church) is here to stay. Read more.

One of the great puzzles of the past year is that the world was devastated by a plague and Massachusetts tax revenues were…pretty much OK. Month after month, the state is collecting far more money than expected, dissolving initial fears of a multi-billion dollar deficit and leading to a new realization that state finances are relatively healthy, according to a news analysis by Evan Horowitz of the Center for State Policy Analysis.. Read more.

The Baker administration pulled the plug on a controversial biomass power plant in Springfield amid growing pushback from opponents who viewed the burning of wood to produce electricity as a threat to public health and the environment. The fate of draft regulations providing new ratepayer subsidies for such plants is unclear. Read more.

Laborers union Local 223, once run by Marty Walsh the new US labor secretary and now run by his cousin — Marty Walsh, backs Jon Santiago for mayor of Boston. Read more.

Opinion

When an environmental remediation program has thrived for a quarter-century — converting abandoned industrial sites into engines of job creation that address the ravages of environmental contamination — turning our backs on that progress seems unwise, says Tim Murray of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. Read more.

Boston mayoral candidate John Barros says hotels that fire their workers during COVID must be held to account. Read more.

Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance says the Ryan and Stephanie Fattman campaign finance case should be resolved with a public resolution letter, not a referral to the attorney general’s office. Read more.

Alex Gray, a blind man running for Boston City Council, says the disability community is an ignored demographic during the pandemic. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Congressman Steve Lynch thinks the state’s reopening moves are “a bit premature,” but said he trusts Gov. Charlie Baker to dial things back if that becomes warranted. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Gloucester’s public health department director says the mayor is interfering with the city’s response to COVID-19, by releasing incorrect information to the public and by personally booking vaccine appointments for individuals. (Salem News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Boston hospital presidents and CEOs are reaping millions of dollars in payments for serving on the board of private companies, many of which have dealings with their hospital and the health care sector. (Boston Globe)

Experts weigh in on why, if more people in Massachusetts are vaccinated, are COVID case numbers rising? (MassLive)

The vaccination rollout continues, as those 55-plus or people with one underlying health condition are eligible to be vaccinated, (WBUR) That group includes about 1 million newly eligible Massachusetts residents. Today also marks the day that most elementary school students return for in-person classes. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Dr. Anthony Fauci says attacks on him from various prominent Republicans are “a little bizarre.” (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

Attorney General Maura Healey raised more than $100,000 last month, as speculation continues that she will jump in next year’s race governor. (Boston Herald

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Sales of boats are soaring as the South Shore gears up for an unusually busy season on the water. (Patriot Ledger)

The hospitality industry is eager for a restart, but the pandemic may usher in some permanent changes. (Boston Globe)

The Springfield Archdiocese puts restrictive clauses on every property it sells – which may make it more likely for the properties to be demolished than reused. (MassLive)

Corporate America is trying to finesse its way through the controversy unleashed by Georgia’s new voting laws. (New York Times

EDUCATION

Fall River public schools are making some policy changes in the wake of a report on the death of teenager David Almond that found missteps by the school district. (The Herald News)

Many school districts are working on how to give their seniors a traditional graduation ceremony this year. (MassLive)

ARTS/CULTURE

A new Netflix documentary profiles the famous Gardner Museum art heist. (Patriot Ledger)

TRANSPORTATION

New commuter rail service featuring less trains at traditional peak periods and more trains scattered throughout the day begins today. (WGBH)

President Biden’ huge infrastructure proposal would be a boon to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor route, but don’t expect any instant transformation of the rail system’s busiest route. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Demand for money from the state’s climate change resiliency grant program far outstrips available funding. (Salem News)

Sen. Ed Markey reintroduces a bill to block funding for the construction of any new compressor station that would aid companies in exporting natural gas overseas. The bill targets projects like the controversial newly built Weymouth compression station. (Patriot Ledger)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia, already charged with accepting bribes in exchange for marijuana company approvals, worked briefly as a consultant for marijuana company Northeast Alternatives while he was mayor. He then signed a letter allowing Northeast Alternatives to operate in the city. (Herald News)

MEDIA

The Orlando Sentinel runs an editorial asking for deliverance from a takeover by Alden Global Capital, which it compares to “a biblical plague of locusts.”