Prosecution Reform: A Win in Boston, Losses in CA

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Rachael Rollins, who won last week’s primary for district attorney of Suffolk County in Boston, ran on ending mass incarceration and cutting off relations between Boston and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. If Rollins defeats her independent opponent in a general election that has no GOP candidate, the county’s nearly 800,000 residents will have a prosecutor intent on remaking the criminal justice system: No more cash bail, no more civil asset forfeiture, no more racial disparity in who does and doesn’t go to jail, the Washington Post reports. Rollins told the Post, “There are certain charges that I don’t want to prosecute any longer. Those are overwhelmingly the charges that fall on the mentally ill and those with substance abuse disorder.”

Rollins is the latest in a string of reform-minded candidates who will be district attorneys in deep-blue cities that, for years, elected Democrats who ran on “law and order” platforms. The effort to elect them has succeeded in Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis and failed in other blue cities. It’s created a blueprint for electing reformist prosecutors and for shaping their agendas. Civil rights activist Shaun King co-founded a political PAC, Real Justice, working to elect more reformers. The early results were encouraging. In Texas’s March primaries, Real Justice fell just short in a Dallas County race but won in San Antonio’s Bexar County. The PAC’s next big projects were in California, where four deep-blue counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Sacramento and San Diego — were electing or nominating prosecutors. In June, all but one candidate — Contra Costa’s Diana Becton — lost. The Real Justice-backed candidate in Alameda, Pamela Price, was surprised to see her county — anchored by the left-wing bastions of Oakland and Berkeley and rattled by police shootings — stick with the old system.

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