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Top Left Corner #137 — Berkshire County D.A. Andrea Harrington on Justice Reform

We spoke Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington about justice reform in the county and beyond broadly, and about bail reform specifically.

Andrea Harrington — submitted bio.

District Attorney Andrea Harrington is Berkshire County’s chief government prosecutor and top law enforcement official. She and her staff of 22 prosecutors, together with their law enforcement partners, handle 7,600 criminal matters each year. She is Berkshire County’s sixth District Attorney, and the first female elected to this position.

The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office prosecutes cases in Superior Court (major felonies), District Courts, Juvenile Courts, and the Massachusetts Appellate Courts. It also collaborates with local law enforcement and state police on criminal investigations, directs homicide investigations, and conducts grand jury proceedings.

The District Attorney is a public servant whose primary duty is to seek justice. According to the Supreme Court, the prosecutor’s aim is two-fold: “that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer.” *

In that same spirit, under District Attorney Harrington’s direction, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office has two principal goals – the vigorous prosecution of those who pose a danger to our community, and the implementation of meaningful legal reform to address persistent and pernicious systemic inequalities in our criminal justice system that have caused needless hardship for less-advantaged members of our community. She views crime prevention and legal reform as a group civic effort and proactively seeks public input through collaboration and partnerships with community groups, non-profit organizations, schools, businesses, and service organizations, as well as local law enforcement.

As chief law enforcement official for the county, it is District Attorney Harrington’s job to help keep Berkshire County safe from criminal harm. This means a laser focus on the prosecution of serious and violent crimes. In addition to protecting our communities through the vigorous prosecution of criminal behavior, District Attorney Harrington has also enacted substantive criminal justice reform. These include the implementation of  a smarter cash bail policy to address systemic bias against poorer non-violent defendants, the creation of a Berkshire Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force to shine light on a less-publicized area of violent crime typically perpetrated against women, and the use of a “vertical prosecution” model that provides continuity for crime victims through the assigning a of single prosecutor and victim witness advocate to all District Court cases. The overarching goal of these reforms is to focus the office’s limited prosecutorial energies on serious and violent crimes, while adopting preventative crime measures, victim’s services, and less costly and more effective alternatives to traditional prosecution for lesser infractions.

District Attorney Harrington believes that diversion programs can help stop crime before it happens. The office strives to reduce recidivism by diverting low-level offenders out of the criminal justice system and into drug treatment and/or mental health counseling where they can get the help they need. Similarly, her office launched the Berkshire County Juvenile Diversion Program to reduce juvenile crime and encourage Berkshire County youth to make smart decisions. This program intervenes in the lives of our at-risk youth by redirecting eligible kids away from the criminal justice system and into programs and counseling, which research shows reduces recidivism.

Under her direction, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is also updating its information infrastructure with the digitization of four decades of files that were previously warehoused, updating of computer terminals, telephones, and internet access, and making sure support staff is cross-trained. This modernizing of the office’s information backbone helps ensures effective prosecution, responsiveness to public record requests, and the continuity and safeguarding of all office functions.

District Attorney Harrington’s progressive vision for the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is informed by her 15 years of legal practice and local community engagement. Born in the Berkshires, she attended Pittsfield Public Schools and has served on the Richmond School Committee. Her family has been rooted in the Berkshires for generations, working for Sprague Electric and GE, and as farmers, carpenters and housekeepers. Her work in criminal, family, and employment law has given District Attorney Harrington an intimate understanding of the struggles faced by so many in our region. She understands the true impact in Berkshire County of domestic violence, the tragic consequences of the opioid crisis, and how unfair bail practices and sentencing policies can devastate local working people and their families in our community.

Harrington lives in Richmond with her husband, Tim Walsh, and their two children. She considers it an honor to serve her community – the residents of Berkshire County.

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