By Judith Knight
PITTSFIELD — If you are looking for a district attorney who will bring progressive reform in a responsible way to our criminal justice system, I am your candidate.
To bring about reform in our criminal justice system, your next DA has to have a real interest in changing the system as well as first-hand knowledge about what needs fixing. The only way to truly have this insight is by actively working in the criminal court system in both District Court and Superior Court for many years as I have. It is also essential to have a perspective as both as a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney as I have.
I returned home to the Berkshires in 1998 after having been a prosecutor in Middlesex County for five years where I tried countless misdemeanor and felony trials after which I became a criminal defense attorney at Boston law firm for 5 years. Since then, I taught law as an adjunct professor at Western New England School of Law for six years and managed a multi-milliondollar business with over 70 employees for two years at the request of a dying friend. I did this
while continuing my specialty as a criminal lawyer trying criminal jury cases in Berkshire County district courts and the Superior Court.
I realized early on in my return home that there were better ways to approach crime than what was being done in Berkshire County. I started advocated for new reform measures that would help reduce crime and make better use of our court systems when I ran against DA David Capeless in 2006.
I knew then as I do now that we need a criminal justice system that works to lift the community up, not bury it. The criminal justice system can do this by offering rehabilitation to those who need treatment and education for those whose misconduct is borne out of ignorance. Instead of jailing an addict for a minor crime and moving on to the next case, we must consider what the underlying problem is and make treatment a component of the sentence. I am in favor
of specialty courts for those who suffer from mental illness and our veterans who find themselves in the criminal justice system.
I am in favor of formal diversion programs for juveniles and first-time, non-violent offenders in misdemeanors cases in adult court so that those individuals can have a chance to keep their record clean. Too many times, in my capacity as a
criminal defense attorney, I have seen my clients’ futures permanently hobbled due to a conviction for a minor crime caused by their youthful foolishness. As your next DA, I will implement diversion programs and co-create specialty courts because the DA has the power to do this.
People must be accountable for their actions. Repeat offenders will not get the same break as a first-time offender will. But the punishment must always fit the crime.
Overuse of mandatory
I am not in favor of minimum mandatory sentences which take the sentencing power away from the judges. This is particularly true in drug cases where a first or second time offender can face up to two years in jail or five years in prison with no ability to earn good time.
The misuse of tacking on mandatory minimums enhanced penalty statutes has been the leading cause of mass incarceration in this country. And locally, the current Berkshire County DA’s office has done its part too by its overuse of mandatory minimums which has resulted in the longest jail and/or prison sentences rendered in the Berkshire County court system for non-violent crimes.
As your DA, I will prosecute these cases to the best of my ability and trust the skilled judges in District and Superior Court to do the sentencing. That is how the criminal justice system is supposed to work.
As your DA, I will prioritize the prosecution of violent crime. I will draw on my experience as a prosecutor in Middlesex County where I was assigned to the Child Abuse Unit for one year. I was part of a well-coordinated team including social workers and trained support staff to secure convictions in these difficult cases. I will use that same model to create a Domestic Violence Unit/Child Abuse Unit for all domestic violence crimes and child abuse crimes where my prosecutors will be given training on the issues involved in these highly sensitive and challenging cases. The same prosecutor who is first assigned to each case will stay with it from start to finish to provide continuity to the victim(s).
A disproportionate amount of people of color are incarcerated here in Berkshire County. Rectifying this will be one of my top priorities as the next DA. I will start by implementing the following measures: I will follow through with the now-mandated implicit bias training for all prosecutors in my office and include all support staff as well. I will put together a Citizens Advisory Board made up of citizens of diverse color to weigh in on cases where race is an issue.
With regard to recommending a sentence, I will keep in mind that many people of color have criminal records that are born out of societal racism such as housing or employment issues. I will collect data on the race, gender, age, and the charges brought, the bail recommendation and outcome of every case. I will make that information available to the public so that we can have an honest assessment of how a person’s race may be impacting how their case is resolved in
court. I will make corrections where necessary. As your DA, I plan to review all pending cases to see how they should best proceed and will do so with a discerning eye to see if racism, conscious or unconscious, has played a role in the case and the charges brought.
If you want a DA who is neutral in local politics and has a global view of the criminal justice system based on years of dedicated experience as a criminal trial lawyer, a person who knows how to tackle the tough cases and keep our community safe and bring about responsible progressive reform in our criminal justice system, I am your candidate. I ask for your vote on Sept. 4 for Berkshire County district attorney.
Judith Knight is a Democratic candidate for Berkshire district attorney.
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