Harrington Running to Reform District Attorney's Office
This is the third of three interviews with the candidates for Berkshire district attorney in the Democratic primary. The winner of the primary will win the office because he or she will be unopposed in the general election.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — If you want things to change, you need to do something different.
That's Andrea Harrington's view when it comes to reforming the criminal justice system. And now, she wants to be that change. She is seeking election as the next district attorney following the retirement of David Capeless.
"We see progressive defense attorneys without prosecutorial experience being elected across the country. That's because if you want to change the system, it takes somebody with a different view," Harrington said.
"If you want reform, you need a reformer."
Harrington entered the race shortly after Capeless announced his retirement and passed the position onto his assistant district attorney, Paul Caccaviello. Harrington has been outspoken about the way Capeless helped Caccaviello run as an incumbent and sees the race as a chance to talk about new ideas for the office.
"When I saw this handover, my feeling was that we really need to talk about these issues. The voters need to make a decision about who's going to represent them," she said.
Harrington says she wants to bring fundamental change to the system and the district attorney has the power to do so.
"The whole [current] approach is a failure to distinguish between people who are dangerous and need to be behind bars and people that need help. That's what I see lacking," Harrington said.
As a defense attorney, the Richmond Democrat said for years she's watched as many were disenfranchised by the system.
"When I started working in the courts here, I started to see what the communities of color have been talking about for so long — about how the system is unfair to them. It is not working very well for poor people, for people with mental health problems. I was pretty horrified by what was happening in our own community," Harrington said.
She said she'd strive to bring more diversity to the DA's office and keep more statistics on how people are being treated by the system. She'd like to start a citizens advisory committee to help provide guidance.
"We don't have a lot of statistics about how people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientation, how those people are treated in the court system. Something we do know is that African-Americans have higher bail than white people right here in Berkshire County. The number that I saw was that African-Americans pay a median of five times more than white people for bail," Harrington said.
She said the current district attorney's office hasn't been that engaged with the community and therefore doesn't truly reflect the "conscience" of it.
"Community outreach is not just showing up and doing a lecture here and there. It is really part of engaging with the community in a meaningful way. One of the ways I'd like to do that is by starting a citizens advisory board. It would be a respected cross-section of members of the community that is weighing in on the work of the district attorney's office and how the DA can reflect the values of the community," Harrington said.
To build trust in the community, one major way to do that would be to stop putting low-level offenders in jail when they need treatment for mental health or drug addiction instead.
"The district attorney is elected because they are supposed to be the conscience of the community. I think part of that is having a district attorney who has good judgment to distinguish between people who are dangerous and belong behind bars and people that need help and need a second chance. Where I see a huge opportunity is to do more work around prevention," Harrington said. "With prevention, we are going to keep people safer because we're going to prevent people from being victimized."
She said there are some 5,000 cases a year in district court and not all of them need to have resources allocated to the prosecution. She'd like to reallocate those funds and get those individuals into existing treatment programs instead.
"We haven't had a district attorney interested in doing that," Harrington said.
But there is a lack of access to treatment programs in the Berkshires and Harrington said simply reallocating the district attorney's budget will not be enough. She plans to be much more aggressive in writing grants. Eventually, she sees the ability for the state to shift less money to the jails and more toward drug treatment programs.
She cited Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan's work in bringing in federal and state resources to help. State Rep. Paul Mark managed to get money in the state budget to support a Berkshire Opioid Task Force and Harrington feels the district attorney's office can serve a vital role in to address the "underlying causes" of a lot of the crime in the county.
"The DA can be a huge voice to get more dollars here and to shift some of the money that's going into prosecution," Harrington said.
Similarly, she would like to start a domestic violence prevention task force. That would operate in a similar way with service providers, law enforcement, and the office working collaboratively to get out in front of domestic abuse issues.
"They are trained in the high-risk factors of people being abusers and people being victims. They share information. They identify people who are at high risk and work to make interventions because people are victimized before there is a tragedy," Harrington said.
She again cited Sullivan's work, saying there hasn't been a domestic homicide in his district in five years. Berkshire County, with a smaller population than Hampshire and Franklin counties, continues to have those murders.
"We have a significant domestic violence problem. One in three homicides over the last two years were domestic violence murders. The rate of domestic-violence restraining orders in Berkshire County is 23 percent higher than it is in the rest of the state," Harrington said.
Violent crimes are the type that Harrington would like to see a greater focus on prosecuting. Instead of targeting resources on low-level offenders, she wants greater attention to making sure the office gets convictions on more serious crimes.
"It is really important to have a close relationship between the district attorney's office and the law enforcement community. I would want to have somebody on call at all times to respond to the scenes of crimes as they happen. You need to work hand in hand with the police from the very beginning of prosecution to ensure there is no a rush to judgment, that we get competent evidence," Harrington said.
"I've worked on a lot of cases where we've really challenged the evidence."
She said one of the most difficult cases to prosecute is sexual assault. She said she has the ability to work closely with the victims to ensure convictions are made.
But taking on the tough cases isn't as easy if the district attorney's office doesn't have a relationship of trust with the community. Harrington said she'd promise to be involved with the community in a much stronger way than her opponents.
"If we want people to give information then we need to build that relationship. You can't be throwing people in jail for these lower level offenses and enforcing school zone violations and all of this stuff and expect the same people to turn around and be cooperating in homicide investigations," Harrington said.
Harrington is also proposing a veterans court to assist with those in the system suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She said veterans have a unique set of circumstances that others do not have and should be treated as such.
"I do think there is room and opportunity to bring a veterans court here. They are similar to drug courts and they've been shown to be very effective. They are cost-effective," Harrington said.
Harrington's platform isn't that different from Judith Knight, who entered the race shortly after Harrington did and ran against Capeless more than a decade ago. Harrington, however, said she has a strong base built from the recent run for state Senate and has the ability to energize the voters behind her ideas.
"I'd rather be in a head to head but we can do a lot of great things with this district attorney's office if we have somebody who has the vision that excites people," Harrington said.
Getting that vision out there is going to be a challenge. Caccaviello has somewhat of a "headstart" on his campaign and has a fairly significant lead in fundraising. Further, being recognized as the incumbent will make it even more difficult for challengers to compete.
"He's going to be listed as the incumbent district attorney on the ballot. What I have to do is I have to educate the voters so that they hear my message to overcome that. And that takes money. Money is really important. I have some name recognition. When I did my polling, I had better favorability than he did. So, that's really helpful to me," Harrington said.
Harrington has opened an office but she thinks it is still a bit early for lawn signs. But, she has deployed a ground game with volunteers knocking on doors. She released a mailer to people's homes. She said she had some 50 volunteers hitting the ground nearly immediately when she announced to collect signatures and has gained a number of endorsement from elected officials. She's confident the base she's built will help her win the Democratic primary in September and the DA's office.
Tags: Democratic Party, district attorney, election 2018, primary,
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