Can the effort to right the wrongs of the criminal justice system go too far?
That’s the argument coming from liberal-leaning prosecutors after the arrest on new charges of a convicted rapist who was released from custody thanks to the efforts of the Massachusetts Bail Fund. The organization is part of a broad national effort calling for reform of the bail system and arguing that people should not be held before trial simply based on their inability to pay bail. The nonprofit group raises money to get people out of jail as they await trial.
The “criminalization of poverty,” advocates say, is just one part of a broken system that winds up treating poor black people and other marginalized groups more harshly than those of greater means.
The Massachusetts Bail Fund has seen a surge in donations since the George Floyd killing brought a heightened awareness of racism in the criminal justice system. That, in turn, has allowed the organization, which previously focused on posting more modest bail amounts for those charged with lower-level offenses, to bail out those charged with serious offenses who are being held on significant bail.
In July, the fund posted $15,000 bail to release Shawn McClinton, a 39-year-old being held at the Nashua Street Jail on rape charges. Three weeks later, McClinton, who had two prior rape convictions, was arrested and charged with raping and attempting to strangle a Quincy woman.
A Boston University student group canceled a fundraising event it had scheduled for last Friday to support the bail fund, apologizing for its “ignorance” that the nonprofit bailed out those charged with serious offenses.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins are both condemning the nonprofit.
“It was dangerous and irresponsible for the Massachusetts Bail Fund to post bail for McClinton, who was facing serious felony charges and has a violent criminal past,” Healey told the Globe.
Rollins emphasized that, unlike traditional bail arrangements in which a family member posts the money and risks losing it if bail terms are violating, those freed by the bail fund don’t have the same incentive to stay out of trouble and return for court dates.
“When a family member or friend posts bail, there is an added pressure on the defendant,” Rollins said in a statement released yesterday. “Any violation, whether a new offense or not showing up in court, could result in that family member or friend losing their money that was posted for bail. That’s how the bail statute works.The Bail Fund isn’t a friend or family member of the accused. There is no discussion on the ride home of ‘what the hell are you doing?’ or ‘what in the world have you done?’”
The director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis center called it “unfathomable” that McClinton was even eligible for bail — though she also slammed the bail fund for then getting him out.
Prosecutors can seek to have defendants held without bail by going through a “dangerousness hearing,” but Rollins said it is sometimes preferable to instead seek a high bail because a dangerousness hearing might require a recently-traumatized victim to testify.
But it seems fair to ask whether this might have been a case where such an effort was nonetheless warranted.
The idea that the defendant would have greater incentive not to commit a new offense or violate other conditions of release if bailed out by a family member seems a bit questionable in the case of McClinton — a registered sex offender whose conscience might not have been guided by concern for a benevolent aunt’s savings account.
It is easy to question the bail fund’s actions after McClinton was arrested on a new rape charge. Would Healey have called it “dangerous and irresponsible” to have McClinton released had he come from a well-off family that posted the bail?
That brings the debate back to the question of whether there are different legal systems for the well-heeled and the poor. There’s a lot to unpack with how the system treats people of different backgrounds, including those charged with violent offenses.
But the organizers of the bail fund aren’t doing themselves — or their cause — any favors by refusing to engage the debate. The Globe says the bail fund’s unpaid director, Atara Rich-Shea, “has been on vacation and unavailable since early July.” Her sister, who has helped raise money for the fund, declined comment. Meanwhile, her brother, Alex Rich-Shea, said it was “stupid” and “morally bankrupt” to bail out defendants facing violent charges.
“I have no idea what she’s thinking, and she has refused to explain her decisions to any reporters thus far,” the Globe says Alex Rich-Shea wrote online.
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FROM AROUND THE WEB
Two Holyoke City Councilors are calling on Mayor Alex Morse to resign after admitting he had sexual relationships with students enrolled in local universities. (WGBH)
Joe Biden taps Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate in a historic move that puts a woman of color on a major party presidential ticket for the first time. (New York Times) The Globe’s James Pindell says some of the reasons why Harris flopped as a presidential candidate make her perfect for the VP slot — she’s ideologically flexible but has a fierce “killer political instinct and high-wattage charisma.”
Sen. Ed Markey secures the endorsement of the group Move On Political Action, solidifying his hold on the progressive wing of the party. (WBUR).
A poll indicates 4 of every 10 voters in Massachusetts intend to vote by mail.
Rep. Ilhan Omar wins her Democratic primary contest in Minnesota. (NPR) Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has expressed support for the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon and been criticized for racist comments, wins her Republican primary in Georgia. (Los Angeles Times)
The Gaming Commission will consider whether casinos can restart roulette and craps games. (MassLive)
Outdoor dining may save restaurants during COVID-19. But are diners at risk from cars plowing into them? (USA Today)
Zipcar demand has surged as people have emerged from their homes but remain leary of public transportation, but the company has struggled to keep up after paring back its fleet in March to control costs during the shutdown. (Boston Globe)
Developers file plans for two projects in Dorchester, one near South Bay that would feature a woonerf and another on Dorchester Avenue calling for 28 apartments and no parking spaces, (Dorchester Reporter)
As schools consider reopening plans, the science shows that children are much less likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19, but an open question is how likely they are to transmit the virus to adults. (Telegram & Gazette)
The Brockton School Committee unanimously voted Tuesday night to start the school year fully remote, and will reassess every two weeks. (The Enterprise)
Cape Cod Community College breaks ground on a $38 million science and engineering center. (Cape Cod Times)
UMass Amherst cancels football for the fall. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Two Pittsfield theaters continue to host performances outdoors, even though their planned seating limits exceed what’s allowed by the state. It’s unclear whether they have cut the number of seats to comply or whether they received a waiver. (Berkshire Eagle) Meanwhile, a Berkshire Eagle editorial urges the Baker administration to approve waivers for the two productions.
Climate activists hang a banner on Boston’s iconic Citgo sign and are charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace. (Associated Press)
The state corrections commissioner suggested a deputy had gone rogue in announcing at the outset of the pandemic that the department was imposing a moratorium on discipline action against corrections officers, but emails obtained by the Globe show she was fully in the loop on the idea, which was quickly abandoned. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth covered the fallout over the memo back in March.
Some supporters are pulling back after the Massachusetts Bail Fund used donations to secure the release of a rape suspect who was arrested within days and charged with committing a new sexual assault. (Boston Globe) Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins defends her office’s decision to seek bail and not move for a “dangerousness hearing” that could have had the suspect held without bail. (Boston Herald)
Worcester’s police chief voices support for a permanent police body camera program. (Telegram & Gazette)