Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington is participating in a unique national pilot program to track what goes into negotiating plea deals by prosecutors in her office. If she discovers race plays a role, she won’t be surprised.

I know that we’re going to see racial disparities. There’s no way we cannot. I mean, they exist throughout the entire system,” Harrington said.What I’m really asking people is to recognize that, and we need to work together as a system to address the racial disparities that I know are going to be there.”

Ninety to 95 percent of criminal cases nationwide are resolved through a negotiated agreement, or plea deal, rather than trial. Harrington, a progressive Democrat, is one of three district attorneys nationwide participating in the Plea Tracker project run by the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law School. After any deal is reached, prosecutors in her office must go online and fill out details about the plea and the parties involved. Researchers at the Wilson Center will then analyze the data to learn more about how pleas are negotiated, and whether they are done in a just manner. Harrington appeared on The Codcast this week to discuss the Plea Tracker project.

Harrington said one goal of the project is to ensure that pleas are entered into consistently, without racial bias. Prior studies have identified racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system, and Harrington said racism is a system-wide issue. Race likely affects how victims report conduct, how police write about it in arrest reports, how prosecutors interpret the reports, and how judges perceive the facts. 

My approach to racial justice and ending the scourge of racial disparities in the justice system is to lead by example,” Harrington said. “So I am making a statement that we are going to track our decision making and we’re going to include demographic information like race, and we’re going to take a hard look at ourselves to see what we are doing to perpetuate these disparities.”

There are also other areas Harrington will be looking at. She has gotten some preliminary results from the study, in advance of a six-month report that will be given to her office in January. That data found that her office has a strong record of contacting victims to discuss a plea deal. It also found a high correlation between offering a sentence of probation and requiring someone to participate in a therapeutic intervention, and it found that most of these offers were made to people with past involvement in the criminal justice system.

Harrington said the latter finding tends to confirm her office’s approach of not prosecuting low-level offenses, and seeking not just to punish but to give people opportunities to address the underlying issues that got them involved with the court system, like substance use disorders.

So far, Harrington said her decision not to prosecute low-level offenses, things like non-violent traffic violations or drug possession, has gotten a positive response. She said judges are happy not to see their courts clogged up with minor issues, and defendants avoid major disruptions to their lives. 

“The court system is just very harmful for people that are dealing with mental illness and substance use disorder and struggling with the impacts of poverty,” she said. “Part of what we’re trying to do is get policing and prosecution out of the way and get those people that need public health assistance into that system and people that don’t necessarily need anything just to be left alone and not have to deal with the hassle that a court process presents.”

Harrington was also asked about a controversial incident last summer in which she (unsuccessfully) asked the chief justice to remove a sitting judge from the bench. Harrington defended her request as a way of sticking up for crime victims and her employees, who she felt were being mistreated. 

“If I see a pattern of conduct from a judge that I’m concerned about and I think undermines public safety and I think is not fair and just to the people that I serve, I really have a few options,” Harrington said. “The option that I selected was really, I think, the softest option, which was to raise my concerns with the Chief Justice so that they were aware and could act on them how they wished to act on them.”



Students not returning: After a pandemic-related drop in enrollment at public schools, the students, mostly in higher grades, have not returned. Read more.

Over and out: Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee makes it a trifecta on the transportation climate initiative, joining Gov. Charlie Baker and Ned Lamont of Connecticut in officially withdrawing. Read more.

Dalton extension: The MBTA gives John Dalton, the manager of the Green Line extension and the T’s highest-paid employee, an extension through the end of 2022. Read more.


MBTA planning department: Transportation advocates Ari Ofsevit and Julia Wallerce say Massachusetts needs to compete better for federal transportation funds, which starts with creating a planning department at the MBTA.  Read more.

School segregation: Liam Kerr offers an eyewitness view of Massachusetts school segregation — in Needham. Read more.

Bike safety: Rep. Michael Moran and Galen Mook of the Mass. Bicycle Coalition use World Day of Remembrance to push for a bill they say would reduce traffic fatalities. Read more.

Women make best climate leaders: Barry White, a board member at Pathfind International, makes the observation that where women lead, a healthier world follows. Read more.

Step backward: Mary S. Booth, the director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, says the Baker administration’s new rules on biomass projects represent a step backward. Read more.





Lawmakers are still pondering how to reform the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home two years after a deadly COVID outbreak there. (MassLive)


Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria is the highest paid mayor in the state, earning more than $236,000 a year for leading a city of fewer than 50,000 residents — thanks to a “longevity” bonus of $40,000 and other perks. (Boston Globe

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu will sign an ordinance today banning the investment of city funds in companies that derive more than 15 percent of revenue from fossil fuels, tobacco products, or jails or prison facilities. (Boston Globe)

Despite complaints by Andover Youth Services staff, an investigation finds no toxic work environment. (Eagle-Tribune)

The two branches of government in Barnstable County have different views and are receiving conflicting legal advice on which branch has authority to distribute federal ARPA funds. (Cape Cod Times)

A 29-year Army veteran encounters racism in an East Longmeadow grocery store parking lot. (MassLive)


A Tufts University researcher says nearly two-thirds of US hospitalizations for COVID could have been avoided if the country had a “metabolically healthy” population without the rates we have of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. (Boston Globe)

A new poll by UMass Amherst/WCVB finds that just over half of parents will probably get their child vaccinated against COVID. (MassLive)


Five dead and 40 are injured as an SUV raced through a parade route in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Police have the SUV and “a person of interest” in custody. (NPR)

Prosecutors are looking at whether Donald Trump’s organization may have broken the law with real assessments that are high for use with potential lenders and low for tax purposes, including a 70-story Manhattan building listed in 2012 as worth $527 million but which Trump Organization officials told tax officials several months later was worth only $16.7 million. (Washington Post


Jack Spillane says efforts to join New Bedford and Fall River in the same congressional district failed because the region’s political leaders don’t get along and couldn’t forge a consensus on pushing such a plan. (New Bedford Light


Teachers unions in the state say they continue to support in-person learning but are urging stronger mitigation measures to protect school staff personnel. (Boston Globe

Don Brown is expected to be rehired as head coach of the UMass Amherst football team. It would be his second stint as the coach, having served from 2004 to 2008. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)


The New York Times digs deep on cobalt, which is crucial for electric car batteries and which China has raced far ahead of the US in securing rights to. 


The special court inside the Suffolk County Jail to deal with the Mass. and Cass situation shut down on Friday by order of the Trial Court. (WBUR)

Christian Wade at North of Boston Media Group looks at how the AG’s office has used a grant to address fentanyl trafficking. (Gloucester Daily Times)

At least 150 state prison guards have been suspended for refusing to take the COVID vaccine, but some may have gotten the shot after that. (MassLive)


The Boston Newspaper Guild approves a new three-year contract with Boston Globe Media Partners. (Media Nation)

Boston is among 11 cities added to Axios Local, which produces individualized newsletters using two reporters in each community focused on local issues. The Boston newsletter is expected to go live in the third quarter of 2022. (Ad Week)

Two Fox News commentators, Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg, resigned over the network’s coverage, particularly the three-part series by Tucker Carlson on the January 6 attack on the Capitol. (NPR)