Five Democrats and an independent are running to be the next Suffolk County district attorney. It’s the first time in nearly 100 years that there’s been a truly open seat.
WBUR interviewed the six candidates in person, and asked them the following questions. Their transcribed answers have been edited for space and clarity:
Q: What would you do differently from what the retiring Dan Conley has done as DA over the last 16 years?
Evandro Carvalho, state representative, Democrat: I will emphasize the justice part of the criminal justice system, not just the criminal. And I will do that by creating a position, the chief of diversion and restorative justice, to focus on diverting and keeping people from the system, particularly our youth, people dealing with addiction and mental health, and our veterans.
I will bring diversity to the office. I'll make sure that the office looks more like the individuals throughout the county, that rich diversity that the county has.
I'll also bring transparency to the office. I will find a way to introduce policies for us to collect data in the office, and it doesn't have to be new technology that costs millions of dollars. It could be something as simple as a box that you check about race and age.
Another thing I’ll do is worry less about convictions, and figuring out how do we achieve justice beyond just numbers.
Linda Champion, assistant general counsel, Division of Industrial Accidents, Democrat: I would increase the homicide team to deal with the unsolved murders. Over a thousand murderers are walking the streets of Boston.
And I would staff the Conviction Integrity Unit with an individual who is separate and apart from the office. You can't have a friend investigating their friends. The Conviction Integrity Unit is great to have, but it's in name only. It's staffed by no one. Men were treated differently in the office. It was a fraternity, in every sense of the word. And so women were paid less, they weren't treated the same. We complained that people tried to have meetings about it and it wasn't until one of the prosecutors left the office and filed a federal lawsuit [a jury rejected the former prosecutor’s claims]. It shouldn't take a lawsuit for you to do what you know is right. And at the end of the day we were all committed, we're all carrying the same caseload, and we're all doing the same work.
Greg Henning, assistant district attorney, Democrat: I think it's a good time to hit reset on all facets of the office. One of the things I've recently talked about is creating an unsolved shootings team. That would be an area that I put a lot of emphasis on because that's a crisis that we're facing. There were over 730 shootings where a gun was discharged but didn’t necessarily hit someone in 2017.
In terms of hiring and diversifying the office, we can be more proactive and active in terms of going out and making sure we're getting people that reflect the community. I think we do hiring in a little bit more of a passive way now and we can be more active in in terms of how we do that.
In terms of community relations … if our goal is to rebuild trust of the community, not only for community relations but also for crime solving, having a stronger, larger community relations office that does that type of work and having the district attorney more visible in those community efforts and in those community meetings is an important thing to do.
I would be looking to create a procedure like I instituted when I was running the gang unit, where we can review the background of defendants, [their] medical history, educational history, the people in the household, the influences on their life, to determine what influences went into that person perhaps making the choice to pick up a gun or commit a crime and then decide what the appropriate outcome is.
Mike Maloney, defense attorney, independent: I will incorporate harm reduction zones and I will create a five-member panel charged with re-sentencing individuals currently serving sentences under nonviolent minimum mandatory statutes. And I will increase diversity within the office.
Shannon McAuliffe, former defense attorney and director at Roca, Democrat: First, I would change the culture from a scorecard mentality to really valuing safety and justice — which means looking at the defendant before us and determining, how do we ensure that this person will be less likely, and not more likely, to commit a crime in one year and two years and five years?
Second, I would ensure that people's skin color, income and ZIP code does not determine their fate and prosecution, whether you are a victim a defendant or a witness. I have seen as a defense attorney for 12 years the effects that systemic injustice has had on the system and in prosecution and we need a DA who will be honest about the inequities that exist in the world and instead of just prosecuting anybody in front of them really recognizing that discrimination and ensuring that it does not continue to invade our courtrooms and exacerbate discriminatory effects that are our realities.
Rachael Rollins, former general counsel of MassDOT and former chief legal counsel Massport, Democrat: First and foremost, the office would reflect Suffolk County. Currently, it doesn't. There are 275 employees in the office, with 150 assistant district attorneys, and 131 of them are white. When we look at racial disparities in incarceration, I think the office should reflect the people that it serves. How do you do that is, intentionally. I think a lot of people that don't look like me say, “I believe in diversity.” Saying I believe in diversity, they think, is enough. You have to intentionally make sure you want women to be in leadership. 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. So you have to look and you have to search and you have to plead and you have to recruit and then you have to retain. As the former president of the Mass. Black Lawyers Association, as the chair of the Legal Redress Committee of the Boston branch of the NAACP, I have those contacts.
Q: Massachusetts just passed a major criminal justice reform law. Is there anything in the law you’d change or improve on? What would be your next step?
Evandro Carvalho: There's a lot of good stuff in the law. One thing I wish we had done is raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, from 18 to 21. Young people continue to make mistakes and are impulsive through their early 20s. So I wish we had increased the age at least to 19. There was a commission created to study it further.
Also: elimination of mandatory minimums for all nonviolent drug offenses. We did away with some, we didn’t do away with all. But that's the nature of policy.
This is really the single most progressive and historic criminal justice bills in the history of Massachusetts, and probably in the history of the country. Words like diversion, restorative justice, victim's rights, second chances, you’ll find in there. So I'm proud of the work that we've done and I'm proud to be the only candidate who played a significant hand in this law.
Linda Champion: I'm not a fan of minimum mandatory sentences except in situations that involve murder. When it comes to murder and the loss of a life I just feel like it can't really be measured. No one deserves to be killed. No one has the right to take another life. And so I would eliminate minimum mandatories on anything other than murder and allow us to handle individuals on a case by case basis except with respect to murder and then there should be a minimum mandatory sentence if you take someone's life.
Greg Henning: One of the things that the Legislature talked about with this bill is targeting recidivism as the real issue. There is a good reason to shift resources from correctional facilities into reentry and similar services. The budget for the Sheriff's Department and South Bay Correctional Facility I think has gone up about 8 or 10 percent over the past 10 years, while the number of incarcerated individuals has gone down 32 percent. There's savings there that I think we can roll into reentry and programs to help reentering citizens.
On CORI reform: A lot of the young men that I work with, guys that I have recently picked up from state prison or people that I work with in South Bay, a huge hurdle to them coming out is their criminal record. I support the expungement of marijuana convictions from the past. If you have a criminal conviction for marijuana possession, you may have to declare that on an application for employment. But that shouldn't be a bar to you getting a job since recreational marijuana is legal now.
I think that the Legislature should take a look at the parental disqualification part of the bill, which essentially bars a parent from ever having to testifying against a juvenile, even if it's a murder. And I know these are sensitive topics. The parental disqualification is not an effective way of making sure justice is done, because there are cases where a parent sees their child or their young adult involved in an act of violence, and that information is essential to solving the crime. It makes the community less safe by making it less likely for us to be able to effectively investigate and solve crimes.
Mike Maloney: There are diversionary programs which are now applicable based on the criminal justice reform initiative that need to be expanded on. Diversionary programs that are not just incorporated into the juvenile system in Suffolk County, they need to be incorporated beyond the juvenile system to young men, nonviolent young men that find themselves caught in the system for the first time at 22, 23, 24 years old.
Shannon McAuliffe: Implementing the sweeping changes that exist in the bill will be very important and will require a leader who has actually progressed change before and that's what I've done as a director of Roca.
I think that one thing I would change is the addition of the mandatory minimum sentence for fentanyl and other related substances. I understand that we have an incredible crisis on our hands, but I think going down the road of the war on drugs and falsely hoping that mandatory minimums will somehow stem that tide or reduce our deaths is foolhardy. The war on drugs has no deterrent effect, wastes billions of dollars, and has an enormous human cost. And I don't think we need to repeat that based on the fear that we have given the crisis before us. So I also think that mandatory minimums often take us away from the innovative solutions that really work. Jail does not address addiction or recovery but there are some great new treatments and programs out there that we need to be looking at, and stop hoping that jail is going to correct addiction because it simply won't.
Rachael Rollins: As a general rule, I don't agree with mandatory minimum sentences, because I believe it takes away the power of a judge to determine what the appropriate sentence is and to look at mitigating factors. We have some amazing judges in Massachusetts and in Suffolk County who have tried lots of cases, or handled lots of criminal matters. We are taking away all of their power at the end by putting a mandatory minimum on a crime, other than first degree murder. For the drug offenses, I would I would like to see mandatory minimums completely removed.
Q: There’s been a renewed focus on bail reform, with the Supreme Judicial Court decision saying it needs to be affordable, while at the same time there’s often criticism of DAs when someone out on bail commits a new crime.
As district attorney, how would you balance bail recommendations?
Evandro Carvalho: There’s a movement throughout the country to eliminate cash bail, and I'm a believer in that. In fact, I cosponsored bills to do that in the House of Representatives. I think we need to keep going towards eliminating cash bail from all cases. We need infrastructure that will ultimately still ensure that people come back to court. The move in my office will be to eliminate cash bail. Misdemeanor cases, particularly nonviolent misdemeanors, nonviolent felonies, we're not going to be asking for cash bail. From charges, to bail, to plea agreements and ultimately to sentencing, every step of the way we will evaluate and figure out a way to decrease and eliminate disparities and treat people fairly, and cash bail is definitely at the crux of that.
Linda Champion: Bail, whether it's monetary or conditions of release, the conversation we should be having is, what is it about the bail system that is broken? What people are not talking about is, what causes detainment oftentimes isn't the monetary part of bail; it's the conditions of release that are violated. They're putting in place conditions of release that a person can never meet. And probation is quick to step in and have that person's bail revoked. Substance abuse users struggling with a substance addiction, they're never going to give you a clean drug screen. So you're setting them up for failure when you require that, which is going to result in incarceration until the trial. So maybe instead of saying you need clean screening maybe we say you need to show us that you've taken active steps towards getting treatment. What we have to do as a prosecutor is make sure we're asking and requesting for conditions that are realistic that can be achieved. So you're not setting someone up for failure. And I hope the judges will respect that and follow suit.
Greg Henning: The guiding principle that I would have for any of the assistant district attorneys working for me is, when we look at the facts of the case and the circumstances of it, as well as the defendant's criminal record and the charges the defendant is facing, if this is a case where we may end up recommending incarceration or a custodial sentence we can recommend bail. But if it's a case where we're not going to be asking for incarceration, where we're not going to be asking for some sort of custodial sentence, we shouldn't be asking for a cash bail. And I think that's the guiding principle that helps balance those interests that we're talking about.
Mike Maloney: I will not be seeking bail for any nonviolent offenders. ... You cannot incarcerate your way out of the problem. So I simply will not be requesting bail for nonviolent drug cases.
Shannon McAuliffe: So first you have to have ADAs who are trained well, supervised, and understand the ins and outs of the laws. Which means that if somebody is out on bail and commits another crime, there's a mechanism by which you can ask that somebody is held. So it's about training and ensuring that we use the laws that exist in a way that assures public safety. But second it's also about having a leader who can stand up for what is right, and the law says that bail needs to be affordable and cannot unfairly criminalize poverty. And that is something that we need to teach DAs, to ensure that they are not asking for high bails instead of asking for a dangerousness hearing if that's the appropriate answer.
So bail reform is incredibly important and I don't believe using a few exceptions to change the rule that we finally came to after decades of doing the wrong thing, we can't let that change what is right, because people should not be held in jail because they can't pay a $500 bail.
Rachael Rollins: I'm glad that the SJC is finally recognizing that people's financial ability to pay should be taken into account because I believe what's happening is essentially debtor's prison. We have a lot of people pretrial being detained because they can’t afford bail. I want to move towards a New Jersey or other states that are ending cash bail. Bail was set only to make sure you return to court. I believe if you are not dangerous then we need to think of more creative ways to get you back. Your dentist or your doctor will send you a text or a recording of some sort or somebody will call to say, 'Make sure you come to your appointment.' Those are some of the things we can start thinking about. There are no easy answers to this. Cash bail is something I want to try to phase out completely and go to a dangerousness hearing model, where only if somebody is dangerous will we be seeking to to hold them.
Q: What kind of data would the Suffolk County DA’s office track, with you at the helm? How would you manage that, and how would you share that data?
Evandro Carvalho: Data is important for two main reasons: accountability and transparency. There’s tension between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Things seem to be happening behind closed doors. We don't know why decisions are made. Nobody was held responsible. So data will help us build that relationship.
We need data on the disparities. Particularly in Suffolk County, in some communities where I come from, Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan, every other household is touched by the justice system. How we are overcharging these neighborhoods? Talking about bail, from 2010 to 2013, close to 80 percent of the people that were held in Suffolk County were pretrial detainees, the majority of which was because of bail. So we have data of the outcome but we don't have a lot of data about the decision steps. Is it more sentencing? Is it more the plea? We need data that captures demographics and we need data that captures ... decision making and outcomes.
Linda Champion: When I was in the DA’s office we had this archaic database system. It's garbage. Now that I'm working at the state level with the Department of Industrial Accidents, we have a more robust system that allows you to upload information in real time. And anyone who is listed as an attorney of record has access to that direct case file. But we could actually start to upload information in real time so a defense attorney could just log into the system and see everything the prosecutor has. Like an electronic file, but we could also track who the people [who are committing crimes] are, what their race is, where they're coming from. We can start to track patterns in movement of where the crime is kind of occurring and how it's occurring.
What the community would like to see is if there are patterns of discrimination that exist. But I don't need a computer to tell me that. There are patterns of discrimination that exist. Racism is alive and well in our community. I'm a candidate for district attorney and when I walk the streets there are police officers who won't even shake my hand, who refuse to even say hi to me even if I'm trying to extend a greeting to them. So when you have police officers in uniform, that brazen, that blatant, that overt. So if you think that racism isn’t alive and well, if you think that people aren’t going to the polls and voting based on color then you know you're living in a different location than me.
Greg Henning: We are using antiquated technologies. The budget for the office is very very tight and small. We have the lowest paid assistant district attorneys in the country for any major city and there really isn't the capacity now to change the data tracking system, although it should. So I would support getting an additional monetary outlay to get an accurate, up to date, thorough, data tracking system and the way I would do it is to have the system that's modeled after some of the other major cities that tracks this data.
And it shouldn't be hand-entered in by administrative assistants. When a person is arrested or when a person is charged with a crime, they often have to self-report information through booking or through the processing, and that data should just be part of the data that we collect.
And I'm happy to present and report data to the public. I think it's an important part of transparency. I would keep out things that are identifiers for victims. I would keep out sexual assault victims’ identifying information. I would keep out things that identify locations and addresses and anything involving ongoing investigations. Certainly gender, race, ethnicity, the outcomes of cases, I think all that can be and should be shown to the public, because once the public realizes just what we're dealing with, especially in terms of some of the violent crime on the street, the shootings, the propensity for violence to overlap in neighborhoods, and for one individual to be responsible for so much violence, I think the public will have a better understanding of the work that we do in terms of public safety.
Mike Maloney: There needs to be total transparency in the office, so I will be releasing data on a quarterly basis in regards to the race and gender of all individuals that have been charged, i.e. arraigned, all individuals that have been convicted, and all offers that were made in major felony cases, violent cases.
Shannon McAuliffe: This is one of the features that distinguishes me from the other candidates. I was a director at two sites at Roca, which is data driven from front to back. We measured everything, from every class a participant took, to their level of engagement, to every contact and the mode of contact, increases in emotional regulation, improvements in GED scores, and even someone's improvement in being able to work at a job. So this isn't something that is foreign to me.
At the DA's office we need to start measuring defendants, victims and prosecutors — their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation — anything that could skew how someone would be dealt with fairly needs to be measured. And then determine at which pressure points is discrimination coming in and forcing an unfair result. That needs to be done immediately when the new DA comes in, needs to be shared with the entire staff, needs to be used to implement a plan to change what's happening currently, and then needs to be used to actually track how a change in policy will change the results that we have in courtrooms so that people will understand if we do different, we can actually get a different result.
Rachael Rollins: Unfortunately, right now we don't know a lot of the data that the Suffolk County DA's office tracks. I was in a meeting prior to running to office with the DA, the ACLU and several other criminal justice reform champions, and one of the questions that came up from somebody else was about a public records request for data and they hadn’t heard back for months. He said to the person after the meeting, "We’ll get it to you, it’s going to be $200.' And I said out loud at the meeting, that’s outrageous. As the former general counsel of the Massport and MasDOT and the T, I was responsible for all the public records requests, of which we got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, and we would routinely waive fees for people in education and community groups.
We should be turning our data over like Kim Foxx, the state's attorney in Cook County, Chicago, who has a chief technology officer who is now capturing data. She just released 7,000 pages to be analyzed, with a 15 page executive summary. That's the type of stuff I want to do. We need to know how old you are, what gender you are, where you live, what your nationality or race is. Right now we capture a lot of data when people are incarcerated and not as much when they come into the system. We need to do better.