Public Interest Leadership Program Learns About the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Approach to Criminal Justice Reform


Donna Patalano, General Counsel for Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s Office, recently spoke to the Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) about what criminal justice reform looks like on the ground in Suffolk County. Specifically, Ms. Patalano discussed recent steps the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office has taken to implement reform-minded policies and procedures that aim to protect the community, while simultaneously addressing the underlying issues that often lead to recidivism.

Ms. Patalano explained that many of these policies have been codified in The Rollins Memo. The memo, released in March 2019, outlines the office-wide goals of minimizing the impact of the criminal justice system and reducing racial and socioeconomic disparities. Additionally, the memo presents specific guidelines for the prosecution of some of the most common- but least serious- criminal offenses in Suffolk County’s district and municipal courts. One of the guidelines contained within the memo is “The List of 15,” which is a list of low-level offenses where the presumption is that those charges should be declined or dismissed by prosecutors pre-arraignment and without conditions. The declination and diversion guidelines also provide for prosecutors to exercise their discretion and continue arraignment of charges for diversion or conditional dismissal. Furthermore, prosecutors may still arraign a defendant for a charge on “The List of 15” due to an aggravating factor or an identifiable exception to the presumption of dismissal.

With respect to cash bail, Ms. Patalano explained that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office has adopted a presumptive recommendation of release on personal recognizance for all individuals who are not charged with an offense that is eligible for detention under M.G.L. c. 276, §58A. For those defendants who are charged with Section 58A eligible offenses, there is still a presumption of release on personal recognizance unless prosecutors feel there are no conditions of release that would ensure the safety of an individual or the community.

Finally, Ms. Patalano discussed upcoming initiatives within District Attorney Rollins’s office. The first of those initiatives is the Project for Unsolved Suffolk Homicides. This was created to offer a fresh set of eyes and renewed interest on unsolved homicide cases in Suffolk County, as well as to express the office’s deep commitment to residents who have lost a loved one to violence. Additionally, Ms. Patalano passionately described the creation of a new Conviction Integrity Bureau within the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. This bureau is designed to review the integrity of prior convictions, pending criminal cases, sentencing, and law enforcement involvement.

To learn more about District Attorney Rollins’s office, visit https://www.suffolkdistrictattorney.com/

Meeting Recap provided by PILP Member Julianne Campbell.