In a 66-page memo sent to her staff, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins laid out what she called in a tweet last Monday night “a roadmap to a criminal justice system that works equally for everyone, based on research, data and input from many stakeholders.”
In detailing the changes in policies that her office will be following, Rollins focused on several: “declination and diversion,” treatment over punishment, and a reduction in the impact of court procedure on immigration status.
Striking a theme that she introduced during her campaign last year, Rollins put an emphasis on “declination and diversion,” shorthand for declining to charge offenders of 15 “low-level, non-violent” crimes and diverting the cases to programs like community services.
The memo cites the Suffolk County Juvenile Alternative Resolution (JAR) program, launched in 2017 by former Suffolk DA Dan Conley, as a success story of the “Declination and Diversion Policy” because the program reduced the number of people arraigned in juvenile court by 60 percent without a “corresponding increase in crime.”
The JAR program provides “individualized service to young people as an alternative to traditional prosecution.” Instead of being sentenced, the juvenile offenders are placed in programs offered by community agencies aimed at leading them away from criminal justice system.
The Rollins memo says the DA’s office will learn from the JAR program’s success and expand it to “emerging adults and adults in all courts.”
In cases involving mental illness and substance use disorder, per Rollins’s memo, her office will defer and decline prosecution so that people with the disorders will receive “properly matched treatment programs.”
Rollins says she supports the use of “supervised consumption sites, safe needle exchange, and cleanup programs, widespread availability of drug test strips, and the lifesaving drug Naloxone to prevent overdose.” She points out that the change in the public’s perspective toward substance use came as a result of shifting demographics impacted by opioid issues, as the impacts were no longer limited to black and Latino communities.
As to immigration cases, she said that consequences will be factored into charges and sentences under her administration. She, or her first assistant, or the office’s general counsel will be notified if ICE or other immigration authorities arrest or question people in or around the Suffolk County courthouse. There is no mention of what actions will be taken after the office has been notified of any ICE presence.
Other “collateral consequences,” such as employment, insurance, and family, will also be considered when the DA’s office decides immigration cases. The office is working with Harvard Law School to chart “some of the thousands of collateral consequences,” the memo says.
The section on immigration drew a quick and stern response from Todd Lyons, the acting director of ICE’s enforcement and removal operations in Boston. According to the Boston Globe, Lyons said in a statement that “attempts to promote an overall fear or suspicion of law enforcement officers is a counterproductive and very misguided approach to criminal justice.”
Rollins’s approach was supported by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who tweeted on Tuesday: “I stand in solidarity with efforts to ensure that immigrants in our communities are not denied that justice for fear of being targeted & separated from family and loved ones.”
The guidelines in the memo extend to almost all aspects in the prosecution procedure, from pre-trial detentions to appeals.
In cash bail and pre-trial stages, the office will recommend release unless “there is clear evidence of a flight risk.” Charges will only be arraigned with probable cause and evidence that supports fact finding, and the right to trial is not impeded by concessions such as plea deals.
Rollins promises new plea guidelines that use incarceration as “a last resort” and prioritize diversion. Plea negotiations will incorporate individualized incentives, such as getting a GED as a condition for reduced post-incarceration supervision.
The new policies, including diversion and declination, will apply to appellate cases, and pending appeals will be determined based on her administration’s guidelines.
The memo also highlights the DA’s office’s adoption of the data-driven approach, with “internal data collection and system audit” as well as timely recording of case information into the office’s system.