2018 Election Preview: District Attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Democrats select Rachael Rollins, who faces independent Mike Maloney in November

Daniel Nichanian

Boston voters selected Rachael Rollins as the Democratic nominee for district attorney of Suffolk County. In so doing, they shifted away from the record of outgoing DA Dan Conley, a Democrat who has resisted criminal justice reform. Rollins defeated Gregory Henning (the candidate endorsed by Conley) by 17 percentage points, even though this five-person race featured other candidates who like Rollins ran on reform platforms.

“We need to end mass incarceration and restore justice in our communities,” Rollins argued during the campaign. She ran on improving re-entry resources available to people released from incarceration. “There are currently 11 housing authorities in the United States that allow re-entering residents with felonies to live in public housing. As DA, I want to work on having Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop and Revere start pilot programs to increase that number,” she wrote in an ACLU questionnaire. Rollins also features on her website a list of offenses (such as drug possession, trespassing, and disorderly conduct) that she’ll adopt a default policy of not prosecuting; she says that she will instead dismiss these cases or treat them as civil infractions. She has committed to ending the use of cash bail for low-level offenses and to supporting the elimination of all mandatory minimum sentences for drug charges.

The Democratic primary was marked by a national first: On June 26, the candidates debated in the city jail.

On June 26, they appeared at a forum held inside the Suffolk County House of Correction. They answered questions from people incarcerated in this Boston jail. “This is the first time we’re aware in the nation’s history that we’ve had a campaign forum like this, in a house of corrections,” said Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, which organized the event alongside the county sheriff. (The ACLU posted a video of the event.)

Massachusetts’s recent history of repressing the voices of incarcerated people made this a striking event.

Rollins now faces independent Mike Maloney in November. If she wins, she would be the first Black woman to serve as DA of Suffolk County. Only 1 percent of all elected prosecutors in the U.S. are women of color, Matt Ferner writes in HuffPost.