January 9, 2018 - A Conversation with Donna Patalano, Middlesex DA Candidate
Compiled by: Jacob Kramer
Donna Patalano is running as a progressive, reformist candidate for Middlesex DA.
The incumbent, Marian Ryan, has had the office for over 30 years, and while not among the very worst DA's (she did not sign the letter against the Criminal Justice Reform Bill) she is not exactly good. Middlesex County has about 1/4 of the state's population, with 54 towns and cities including Cambridge, Somerville, Medford and Malden. A better DA could have a have a huge material impact on thousands of lives.
Patalano is positioning herself as more Progressive than DA Ryan. She comes from a working class background in a Union family, has worked as both a prosecutor and defense attorney (for indigent clients), has worked to get wrongly convicted people out of jail, has run internal ethics offices, and built a database of "bad cops". Having worked on both sides of the law, she talks about the perspective she has gained, and how she understands that the system is unequal for defendants, especially poor people an POC. She seems a competent administrator and a credible messenger for ideas that may not have hit the mainstream.
In many cases she spoke of the powers and discretion vested in the DA's office, especially when it comes to sentencing, bail, and pleas. There were moments where she indicated she could be a True Reformer:
● Praised Larry Krasner and said he inspired her to run
● Said there was "no reason" Middlesex could not have the "most progressive DA's office in the country"
● Echoed sentiment that less than half MA residents feel that Criminal Justice System is working
● Said that lack of discretion from DA's office has led to mass criminalization, over-incarceration, mass racial disparities.
● Said she might have it "easier" than Krasner b/c Philly PD is a unified force. There are over 50 police departments in Middlesex county, which makes them more fractured, less powerful.
Here is a list of questions that Jacob compiled from asking various groups (e.g. DSA). Thanks to everyone who sent in questions!
Q: How would they limit/abolish the use of solitary confinement (torture)
This is not within the DA's purview, but is hopeful that the Legislature will abolish it this Spring. DP did characterize solitary confinement as undignified and a disgrace to our justice system. Described the dire conditions she had seen at an MA jail, where inmates are confined for 23 hours and have 1 hour access to a "dog run". Would use the bully pulpit to get rid of Solitary.
Q: Would they commit to ending cash bail?
Wants "bail reform" and against cash bail and feels like it is not useful in most cases. Did not speak of abolition but spoke of discretion, and training ADA's to ask for the right amount. Cited the fact that pre-trial incarceration is up 110% since 2013 as a reason she is running. Wants to reduce this, use text message follow-ups to get people to appear in court.
Q: Would they commit to significantly lowering the rate of prosecution of cases? (did not ask explicitly)
DP Spoke about discretion, indicated that much more discretion is offered to white people in rich communities than POC in poorer communities. Wants data on "inputs" to the system— what plea deals are offered by ADA's, what sentences are asked for, rates of declining to prosecute across geography and race, etc. Apparently this data is not available, and would be the first step to building a case to show how prosecutors are being harder on vulnerable populations.
Q: Would they commit to a policy of treating addiction as a public health problem, not a criminal one?
Did not ask, but this is from her website:
Let’s treat mental health and substance abuse as public health issues. Donna will work with the Trial Court to support the drug court initiatives and expansive diversionary programs, dedicating trained staff to collect data so that we can learn what works and how the right candidates may benefit from rehabilitation and treatment instead of incarceration.
Q: What will she do to end use of excessively lengthy sentences? (did not ask explicitly)
Spoke about developing better sentencing guidelines, so that DA's are not incentivized to ask for maximums.
Q: Would she consider ending life in prison sentences altogether?
No. Feels like Life in Prison for 1st Degree Murder is the "only mandatory minimum" she is in favor of.
Q: I do see on her website she supports restorative justice; how will she grow these programs?
She is interested in RJ as a solution to recidivism, which she feels is one of the core failures of the Justice system. Wants to expand partnerships with non-profits that do RJ, have staff in the AG's office dedicated to RJ, and expand it to not just cover 'first time offenders'. Will look for funding wherever she can find it; from Leg, foundations, etc.
Q: What is her position on wiretapping and disclosures about surveillance equipment such as Stingray?
Did not come out against enhanced wiretapping capabilities. Said that MA needs "reform" because it is too difficult for cops to get surveillance permits and Law Enforcement "needs tools" -- she also said she was not familiar with the legislation currently being proposed and could respond in more detail later. As for Stingray, she said she thought Boston is no longer using it, but did not talk about the DA interceding in the use of such technology.