Letter to the Editor

We Need Clear and Comprehensive Bail Reform

Dear Editor,

For many decades, cash bail has been at the center of our criminal justice system. Bail is an order set to make sure a person returns to court for the next hearing.  It is not a punishment. Yet, today in Massachusetts, more than half of people held in jail have not been convicted of any crime. They are being held on bail.  If people held pretrial could afford the cash bail set in their case, they could literally buy their freedom.  Make no mistake, we have a debtor’s prison in Massachusetts. And for the person sitting in jail, they are losing whatever foothold they may have had in our community  — their job, their apartment, their children — before they have even been convicted of any crime.  If they are struggling with substance misuse, for instance, they aren’t able to access treatment.  All around, the cost for that incarceration is far too high. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Under our Constitution, people are presumed innocent until a jury or judge passes judgement. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of innocent people held pretrial in Middlesex County more than doubled, even while the arrest rate fell by 35%. This represents a drastic increase that is not happening in any other county in the Commonwealth. And we don’t know why it’s happening.  My opponent does not collect or release the data about bail requests, and without that information we cannot implement meaningful reform.

On my first day as Middlesex District Attorney, I will create a clear bail protocol that instructs prosecutors not to request cash bail unless a person is suspected of committing a violent crime. Prosecutors will be trained to assess each case individually using clear guidelines, and the presumption will be against asking for cash bail. Prosecutors across the 12 district courts throughout the county will apply the policy in a standardized and equitable way. In those cases where prosecutors do ask for a bail order, they also will be trained to inform judges of the incarceration cost.  The criminal justice system has a complex budget, and there needs to be complete transparency about how taxpayer dollars are being spent.

To promote transparency and accountability, I will make sure that my Office collects and releases data at least every six months on bail requests and outcomes (including race, gender, charges, courthouse, request, outcome, and revocation rates).

Research by the Boston Bar Association and Harvard University suggests that using something as simple as text message reminders helps people to reappear for their next hearing, and carries nowhere near the cost that unnecessary incarceration does. We need to take bold and innovative steps if we want to reform our criminal justice system so that it treats people equitably and promotes justice with integrity.

Middlesex County needs a District Attorney who will focus on transparency and prioritize new and innovative approaches to reforming the criminal justice system. I look forward to hearing from you on the campaign trail and seeing you at the polls on September 4th! I invite you to get in touch with my campaign at 857-529-7081 or to visit  HYPERLINK “http://www.donna4da.com/” www.donna4da.com to learn more about my vision for both safety and social justice.

Donna Patalano

Candidate for Middlesex District Attorney

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