The Suffolk County Sheriff's Department and the ACLU of Massachusetts hosted on Tuesday the first-ever district attorney candidate's forum inside a house of correction.
The forum, held inside the Suffolk County House of Correction at South Bay allowed both male and female inmates to ask questions to the six candidates running for the Suffolk District Attorney position.
Inmates had the chance to ask questions about changes in bail setting, mandatory minimum sentences, and police actions in communities of color. 70 percent of South Bay's 900 inmates are minorities.
"Should undocumented women be incarcerated? Will you hold police officers accountable for their actions? What are you going to do to combat the high bails?" were just some of the questions asked during today's forum.
"Look at all these people here for us, people really do care, it's obvious they care about us," said Scott Stillman, set to be released in three weeks.
As part of the ACLU's "What a Difference a DA Makes" campaign, the forum was the first time candidates came together at a house of correction.
"I personally believe that our role should be and can be outside the courtroom and in places like this room and out in the community," said Suffolk DA candidate Greg Henning.
The opioid crisis and immigration were also high importance issues highlighted by the inmates during the forum.
"Decisions are going to be made differently, because suddenly it won't be some academic or tough on crime viewpoint, but it will actually be decisions that are driven by real human experiences," said Udi Ofer, the ACLU's Deputy National Political Director.
A poll released last year shows many Massachusetts voters are unaware of district attorney's power and accountability.
As major decision-makers in the criminal legal system, district attorneys directly impact people and communities.
That same poll showed 40 percent of voters did not know district attorneys are elected to office and accountable to voters.
One of the questions inmates asked has to do with voter eligibility. In Massachusetts, unless you've been convicted of a felony, you do have the right to vote by absentee ballot.
The forum comes just as the legislature passed a sweeping new criminal justice reform law that authorizes district attorneys to divert people from criminal sanctions.
"When they're not here, they're taxpayers, they have families, they have kids - and so they need to be included in the process," said Sheriff Tompkins.
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