Five advocacy organizations today responded to Massachusetts Public Safety and Security Secretary Thomas A. Turco III’s mischaracterizations of a range of reform policies announced by Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins.

In a letter addressed to Governor Baker, the ACLU of Massachusetts, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Lawyers for Civil Rights, Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery, and NAACP - New England Area Conference defend reforms that would decriminalize poverty, mental illness, and substance use disorder in Suffolk County.

“Secretary Turco’s letter wrongly suggests that DA Rollins is putting the people of Suffolk County at risk with her reform efforts,” the organizations write in the response letter. “Indeed, the voters overwhelmingly elected DA Rollins to office because of her promise to revise current ineffective practices that have failed to address public health and public safety concerns. The voters clearly demand a new approach to public safety.”

In the letter, the organizations underscore a recent ACLU analysis showing Rollins’ predecessor in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office (SCDAO) dismissed a majority of the cases from the list of offenses Rollins has said the SCDAO will not prosecute under her leadership. The ACLU’s recent “Fact Over Fear” report analyzes 2013-2014 data from the SCDAO, and finds that previous DA Dan Conley dismissed 60 percent of these misdemeanors and low-level felonies. Seventy-two percent of the cases that went to trial during that period resulted in acquittals.

According to the letter, this data shows that Secretary Turco’s assertion that not prosecuting certain misdemeanors and low-level felonies will put Massachusetts residents at risk is “wrong on its face.” Additionally, Secretary Turco’s letter, the organizations write, ignores the gross racial disparities that exist in Massachusetts’ criminal legal system, particularly with regard to prosecution of these low-level offenses.

The advocacy organizations’ response letter also addresses the secretary’s concerns regarding the SCDAO policies’ impact on “the Commonwealth’s ongoing efforts to combat the ongoing crisis of the opioid epidemic.”

“Worse still, [Secretary Turco’s] letter raises the opioid crisis as justification for the ‘tough on crime’ approach that flies in the face of evidence and contradicts [the Baker] administration’s public statements that opioid use is a public health—not a criminal legal—issue,” the organizations write. “We must not continue to pursue the same failed ‘war on drugs’ policies that have decimated Black and Latinx communities without advancing public safety. Moreover, repeating such outmoded tropes actively endangers people living with substance use disorders.”

 

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