Andrea Harrington: We need a leader, not a follower

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RICHMOND — Communities throughout Massachusetts and the nation are embracing smart and effective new approaches to criminal justice proven to reduce crime, break cycles of addiction, protect victims, and get violent repeat offenders off the street. Just next door in Franklin and Hampshire Counties, the district attorney has made transformative change that is saving lives every day.

Sadly, our Berkshire County district attorney has resisted these reforms and remains stuck in the past, refusing to use data and effective practices to fight crime and addiction. We all have seen how our community is suffering for it.

His office's draconian sentencing recommendations, prioritization of incarceration over treatment for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, refusal to aggressively prosecute sexual assault cases, opposition to drug courts, diversion programs and criminal justice reforms, are unacceptable and make Berkshire County a more dangerous place to live.

Like you, I have seen how the opioid epidemic has devastated our community. North Adams has the highest crime rate per capita in the state. Pittsfield has the ninth highest. Berkshire County has shockingly high rates of domestic violence. One in three homicides over the past 10 years in Berkshire County was a domestic violence homicide. The rate of domestic violence restraining orders in Berkshire County is 23 percent higher here than in the rest of the state. In 2015, Pittsfield had over twice the state average number of rapes.

Furthermore, the over-politicization of the district attorney's office has compromised the public's trust. In March 2018, the former district attorney misled the public about his intentions to run for reelection while secretly orchestrating a scheme to make his first assistant, my opponent, district attorney and an incumbent for the September Primary Election. Just days before, my opponent changed his registration to Democrat to qualify to run in this primary. News outlets from the Berkshire Eagle to Commonwealth Magazine have sharply criticized this backroom deal.

The office of the district attorney is too important to the future of this community to play politics with. I will bring integrity back to the DA's office, and I will not politicize the important work of the district attorney.

Changes I will make

As district attorney, I will make sure that everybody plays by the same set of rules and that people are fairly treated regardless of their race, class, or political connections.

In January, I will make the following changes to the District Attorney's office:

— Opioid epidemic: I will take a new approach to the opioid crisis by prioritizing treatment for non-violent offenders and aggressively targeting traffickers of heroin and fentanyl.

— Domestic violence: I will establish a domestic violence high risk intervention program to protect victims of abuse and prosecute domestic abusers.

— Sexual assault: I will reopen every un-indicted sexual assault case from the past 15 years and will vigorously prosecute every case where there is probable cause and a survivor who wants justice. I will not plea child abusers out to probation.

— Protecting our seniors: I will create a public protection unit to target scammers who prey on the elderly.

— Community-based programs: I will expand the role of the office to prevent crime through effective social programs and keep our kids safe from drug use.

— Public accountability: I will ban the practice of the district attorney accepting contributions from the staff they oversee and decide promotions and pay raises for. The focus of the district attorney's staff should be keeping you safe, not being part of a political machine.

I grew up in a working class family here in Berkshire County. My mother, Susan Blasioli is from the Wilson Projects here in Pittsfield and my dad graduated from the Taconic High carpentry program. Thanks to their hard work, I have had opportunities that they did not. I went to college and graduated from law school.

My 15 years practicing criminal defense and civil litigation in trial and appellate courts has afforded me a deep understanding and appreciation for the powerful impact that our next district attorney can have in guaranteeing justice and building a safe community. My experience as an aggressive litigator, problem solver and entrepreneur transcends the failed war on drugs mentality that has dominated the Berkshire County district attorney's office. I will lead the community in bringing in greater resources and in solving tough problems.

With energy and passion, I will modernize the district attorney's office and bring criminal justice in this county into the 21st century, so that my children and yours can raise their families here and thrive.

What this community needs is a leader, not a follower. What I offer is new leadership and a new direction for Berkshire County. That's why I ask for your vote on Sept. 4 in the Democratic primary.

Andrea Harrington is a Democratic candidate for district attorney.


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