Rachael Rollins, Criminal Justice Reformer, Is the New Suffolk DA

Promising a shift in how crime is prosecuted in the county, Rollins beat independent Michael Maloney.

rachael rollins at forum

In this Tuesday, June 26, 2018 file photo Suffolk County District Attorney Democratic candidate Rachael Rollins, left, takes questions directly from inmates during a forum at the Suffolk County House of Correction at South Bay, in Boston. Photo via AP/Steven Senne

In the start of what may well be a new era for criminal justice in Boston, Rachael Rollins has won the election to become the next Suffolk District Attorney.

Rollins, a Democrat, beat a challenge to her right from independent Michael Maloney, a criminal defense attorney, by a wide margin of about 80-20. She will be the state’s first black woman district attorney.

Before the midterm votes were tallied, Rollins emerged from a field of five Democrats who lined up to replace outgoing Suffolk DA Dan Conley after his resignation, netting 40 percent of the vote and beating a police-backed candidate.

Her winning platform included a push for criminal justice reform, and a controversial policy of no longer prosecuting people for lower-level non-violent crimes, like dealing small amounts of drugs, shoplifting, or standalone resisting arrest charges. Instead, she has vowed to focus on resolving those issues via alternatives to jail, like community service or restitution.

“This is the time for us to claim our power and make good on our promises to make true criminal justice reform for the people in Suffolk County,” Rollins said at the time. “Reform that is progressive – that decriminalizes poverty, substance use disorder, and mental illness.”

She attracted some attention beyond Massachusetts, and even sparred on TV with Tucker Carlson, the adversarial conservative Fox News personality, who accused her of abetting criminals. “I don’t have a problem putting people in jail if they are violent, but I believe we have too many people in jail who are not violent,” Rollins said on the show. “I believe that we are spending too much time on petty crimes that are clogging up our system and costing us more money.”

During the campaign, Maloney confronted abuse allegations his ex-wife, who accused him in 2014 of “pushing her, throwing objects at her, and threatening to harm her and kill her father,” according to a report in the Boston Globe. He later apologized for his actions, and said he never hit his former wife.

In her new role, Rollins will be one part of an historic trio of people of color in law enforcement leadership roles for the region, joining Boston Police Commissioner William Gross and Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins. “It’s a transformative moment in the city’s history that should be celebrated,” Rahsaan D. Hall, of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Globe columnist Adrian Walker earlier this year. “But it shouldn’t be seen as a panacea to the city’s race issues.”

Rachel Rollins tonight comes Massachusetts first African American female district attorney. The district attorney of Suffolk County. Here are some of her supporters at the Copley Plaza Democratic Unity party. @Rollins4DA @wgbhnews pic.twitter.com/sIXrC7OkMu

— Phillip W.d. Martin (@phillipWGBH) November 7, 2018