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What Suffolk County's Likely Next DA Says She'd Do In Office

Rachael Rollins has won the Democratic nomination for Suffolk County district attorney. (Courtesy)MoreCloseclosemore
Rachael Rollins has won the Democratic nomination for Suffolk County district attorney. (Courtesy)

Suffolk County appears poised to have a self-described reformer as its top prosecutor.

In the primary Tuesday, Rachael Rollins easily beat out five other Democrats  -- including a DA's office insider endorsed by retiring District Attorney Dan Conley. She still has to face off against independent candidate Mike Maloney in November.

Rollins has worked as a lawyer for 20 years, including as a federal prosecutor. She was the first female general counsel at the MBTA, and was Massport's head lawyer.

Her win in the Boston-based county follows in the footsteps of Philadelphia and Chicago's Cook County, which also recently elected reform-minded prosecutors.

In an interview with WBUR last month -- before her primary victory -- Rollins outlined some of what she wants to achieve as DA. Here's what she said:

She wants the office to reflect Suffolk County:

Rollins would represent a majority-minority county, and she says the staffers and assistant district attorneys in the office need to mirror that.

"You have to intentionally make sure you want women to be in leadership," she said. "You have to intentionally make sure you want people of different abilities to be in leadership. You have to work hard to make sure that there are people of color — and in particular black and brown people — whom are the ones that are most often reflected in our criminal justice system."

She says she plans to recruit and retain more people of color, something that would be helped by her time as the former president of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association and connections with the Boston branch of the NAACP.

She wants to eliminate more mandatory minimum sentences:

The criminal justice reform bill passed by the Legislature this year got rid of mandatory minimums for many drug crimes, but increased them for trafficking synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil. Rollins wants most mandatory minimums gone -- except for first-degree murder. She says we need to trust judges when it comes to sentencing.

She wants to get rid of cash bail:

Instead, Rollins wants to see Massachusetts be more like New Jersey, which eliminated cash bail in favor of a system in which judges consider each defendant's risk before deciding if the person should be held. In this state, there's already a process for that, called a dangerousness hearing.

She thinks there are better ways to get people to return to court than money — by getting people to trust the system. Then, she says, they'll hand over cellphone numbers or other personal information so the courts can keep track of them.

"When they look at a court system that they believe is set up to harm them, or not to help them, it's going to be hard to get information from them to do that," she said.

She wants to track and turn over more data in the office:

She specifically mentioned Kim Foxx, the state's attorney in Cook County in Chicago, who has collected and published case data. Rollins said she'll waive fees for public records requests for those in education and community groups.

She wants the DA's office to work more like a service industry:

She says that at Logan Airport, state troopers working the terminals had to be reminded that not every interaction with a traveler needed to be treated like a police encounter, shouting at people picking up their grandmother to keep it moving. They had to be told to use a more gentle touch, she says. That's also what needs to happen at the DA's office, she says, with more of a focus on families of victims and suspects than the bottom line of prosecution.

She said she'd bring a different lens to the office:

Rollins is the oldest of five kids, some of whom have been caught up in the criminal justice system. As a result, she's raising two of her nieces, in addition to her teenage daughter.

"I've lived this experience as a black woman my entire life," she said. "And I also am really fortunate that I've gone to some of the best schools in the world and also have lived a life that has shown me a different side of the world as well."

Related:

Ally Jarmanning Twitter Digital Producer
Ally is a reporter who champions data and public records in the WBUR newsroom.

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