Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins today released a mid-term report highlighting the work of her office in the first 33 months of her administration.
The 43-page document is built around the five core values of the office: Help Heal. Be Brave. Serve Humbly. Respect Everyone. Work Smart. A first year, annual report was in preparation for release in the spring of 2020, but the global pandemic forced a recalibration of the office and its work, so a final document was not produced.
“I am fiercely proud of what SCDAO has accomplished in my first two and a half years in office and this report reflects those accomplishments,’’ said District Attorney Rachael Rollins. “It also provides an analysis of crime trend data and empirical evidence to assess the public safety impacts of the policies we implemented.’’
Under the heading Help Heal, the mid-term report outlines several achievements including: implementing a Rollins campaign promise to presumptively decline to prosecute a list of 15 non-violent, non-public safety focused, low level misdemeanors, and to instead seek potential non-carceral alternatives. The presumption is rebuttable. This policy has not resulted in the increase in crime some predicted. In fact, data show that the opposite appears to be true;
reviewing more than 1,100 cases of some 818 people in custody during COVID where SCDAO staff either did not oppose or actively worked to achieve the release of 236 people. The report suggests that the work may explain reduced infection rates in the state’s county jails compared to state DOC facilities; creating one of the first in the nation programs that developed guidelines for, and to have started delivering fully tele forensic interviews and partially remote forensic interviews for child victims of sexual assault; working to open the Grand Jury — one of the first in the nation to safely reopen — and seeing two separate, socially distanced Grand Juries return more than 164 indictments in 58 days. Additional grand juries have returned more than 1,600 indictments since August, 2020 all involving some of our Commonwealth’s most violent, serious cases.
The report states that “being brave is central to the work of the criminal prosecutor’’ and in the Be Brave chapter, the report notes that our ADAs, victim witness advocates, investigators and administrative staff interact with people who are going through some of the worst, most traumatic experiences in their lives. Prosecutors must review evidence and draw conclusions.
“Being Brave means it is the job of this Office to hold itself and others accountable, especially when it becomes clear that our system has no consistent, overarching audit function,’’ the report states.
Some of the highlights in Be Brave include: being the first jurisdiction in the nation to bring, and win, an injunction against ICE, effectively halting civil arrests in and around the public areas of Massachusetts courthouses. The Biden Administration has implemented policies consistent with our legal position; filing, and winning, emergency petitions with the Supreme Judicial Court to uphold prosecutorial discretion, particularly when the discretion is used to decarcerate rather than incarcerate; welcoming researchers to full access and unfettered review of Suffolk County data and committing to change course if the data indicate a need to do so;
In addition to the recent National Bureau of Economic Research paper which looked at 17 years of Suffolk County data and showed that non-prosecution of non-violent misdemeanors reduces recidivism, a Harvard data scientist and PhD candidate has analyzed cases impacted by SCDAO’s non-prosecution polices and the preliminary findings indicate:
The share of the non-violent, non-serious misdemeanor cases declined, dismissed or diverted increased following the release of the Rollins Memo from 54 percent (in the four years prior to Rollins being elected) to 77 percent in the one year after her election; At the same time, the recidivism rate for those cases and the violent recidivism rate both decreased.
• Being the first DA’s Office in the nation to advocate to our state’s highest court in favor of individualized sentencing for every 18-20 year old in first degree murder cases.
The Serve Humbly section, noting the on-going trauma still felt in and around Mission Hill some thirty years after the police invasion following the murders of Carol DiMaiti Stuart and her son, Christopher, states the need to acknowledge failures, correct past mistakes and prevent ones from reoccurring in the future.
Highlights include: creating our country’s first Discharge Integrity Team to review allegations of excessive police force was vitally important “because partners who work closely together in the criminal legal system – like the DA’s office and police departments – to prepare cases and secure convictions are inherently biased in favor of each other”. The DIT consists of a community member, a retired judge, a criminal defense attorney and an active member of law enforcement, all of whom assist DA Rollins with her investigation; establishing the Integrity Review Bureau, which has, in some 16 months, vacated or overturned decisions in 10 cases including those involving Robert Foxworth, Pedro Valentin, Arnold King, and Sean Ellis. Collectively these 10 individuals had served some 321 years in prison for convictions that were unjust, unconstitutional or infected with corruption. And there are more to come.
Respecting Everyone, the report states, “is a commitment to valuing the humanity and dignity of each and every person our office serves’’ and that after “centuries of structural and individual racism, equal treatment alone will never deliver equity to the most impacted people and communities. Accordingly, we must bring a racial equity lense to everything we do.’’
The section highlights how the office is more transparent and diverse than ever before and has made significant strides in broad outreach, including: thirty percent of the new hires speak more than one language; the language capacity in the all-important victim witness advocate program has doubled;
the enhanced Community Engagement Bureau has held quarterly town halls and virtual forums; sponsored, created, or attended more than 600 speaking engagements; and held more than 70 staff visits to prisons and jails; on-boarding for new ADAs includes a mandatory visit to the Nashua Street Jail and meeting with criminal defense attorneys, members of law enforcement, the judiciary, returning citizens, victims and survivors of violent crimes, and community partners.
A new oath of office administered to every single employee, intern or fellow at SCDAO that affirms our core values.
Working Smart is what public service requires and it is a necessity, as the report states, because “of the 18 primary agencies comprising the Suffolk County criminal legal system, SCDAO has the lowest budget per case and the lowest average salary per employee of all agencies with publicly available data.’’
The Rollins Memo charted a path to safely shift the priorities in the office to focus on the most violent and serious crimes. Some highlights in the Work Smart section include: increasing the number of completed homicide trials in 2019 by 21 percent;
launching the Project for Unsolved Suffolk Homicides (PUSH) in 2019 to focus specific attention and resources on the over 1300 unsolved homicides in Suffolk County dating back to the 1960s. We have indicted several decades old cases as a result of this initiative. And there are more to come;
applying for and receiving more than $1 million in grants to better serve the people of Suffolk County;
during COVID providing more than 7000 hours of training for SCDAO staff and community partners to better serve the people of Suffolk County;
utilized work from home during COVID to upgrade the office IT systems and to better streamline our grand jury process.
“Though there is a lot of good news to report here, much work remains,’’ DA Rollins said. “In 2018, Massachusetts had the equivalent of the 9th highest incarceration rate in the world. Some police areas, such as B-3 in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood, saw an 11% increase in overall crime in 2019, despite overall crime declines and a record low number of homicides that year.
“Wealth based and racial disparities exist, and poor and BIPOC communities continue to shoulder the brunt of the county’s violence and trauma. Though homicides declined 31% in Boston in 2019 — representing the lowest number in decades — they increased 77% countywide in 2020 (compared to that record low number). This year in Boston, due to excellent police and community work, we continue to see a decline in violent serious crimes, including homicides. But Chelsea has had two murders in 2021 and Winthrop remains shaken from the double homicide fueled by hate and the brave Winthrop police officer that confronted and neutralized a murderer, bringing the death toll to three. Research in trauma-related disciplines shows that shootings, whether fatal or non-fatal, stabbings and violence harm entire families, social networks, and neighborhoods. We cannot falter or rest on our achievements. One homicide is too many. So, we continue to proactively try to disrupt violence and harm.
“I am proud to say that in our first two and a half years in office we have taken major strides toward a public health-focused approach to public safety. We are committed and excited to continue this urgent work in 2021 and beyond.’’