On Thursday, Sept. 26, the District Attorney’s office held a Town Hall meeting in the Neil Shapiro Center for Performing Arts at the high school. Winthrop was selected as the third installment of a three-part Town Hall series, following one at West Roxbury and one at Chelsea, earlier this year. The meeting served as an opportunity for residents to voice concerns to District Attorney Rachael Rollins and receive updates on initiatives and issues that affect Winthrop.
The conversation was kicked off by the District Attorney Office’s Director of Youth Safety and Outreach, Jackie Lamont, who has been in a relationship with Winthrop Public Schools for several years. Lamont’s role in the district is to educate students on social media safety as a preventative measure against child abuse and online exploitation.
“Winthrop is special to me and our office and District Attorney Rollins continues to not only support the programs that I am most focused on, but she embraces them,” said Lamont. “It is so important to come out to the schools and prevent some of the things that can be prevented and it is so important for the DA’s office to meet with kids before things happen.”
The conversation shifted from school safety to the criminal justice system as DA Rollins shared her reasoning for joining the DA’s office. “Because we don’t get to choose our parents, where we live, or what school we go to, it can be a terrifying and threatening situation for someone entering the criminal justice system and I’ve seen a lot of hurt and traumatized people.”
Rollins shared her hopes of being able to rehabilitate people without incarcerating them and her belief that community service is a better choice than having taxpayers spend money that doesn’t get to the root problem of the situation.
“Instead of having taxpayers spend $55,000 to $70,000 a year to incarcerate someone, money could be better spent by assisting communities in working on the root problems that lead people to the justice system.”
School Committee Chairman Valentino Capobianco raised the topic of the gun issue in Massachusetts, to which Rollins shared her experience of attaining her own license to carry. She explained the process, which took several months and included a background check, shooting test, and a class.
“An overwhelming amount of non-fatal shootings in Suffolk County, involve unregistered illegal firearms that have been scored on the black market.”
There is less than a 20-percent solve rate for non-fatal shootings and with limited resources, Rollins and her staff are in the challenging position of having to decide where to dedicate funds. Since she has been in her position, there have been 34 homicides in Suffolk County, stemming mostly from mental health, crimes of poverty and substance abuse. Within the same time period, Rollins has hired several new assistant district attorneys, a licensed clinical social worker, public health and public policy professionals, and data experts, all on her mission to get to the source of the problem.
“This job isn’t easy, but it’s our obligation to keep the community safe.”
As the conversation of mental health deepened, one parent applauded the Winthrop School District for having onsite adjustment counselors, setting an example for other schools and serving as an added preventative measure. The Restorative Justice Partnership is another way that Winthrop was recognized as being a leader in helping more substance abuse victims than any other district in the commonwealth. While communities are focusing almost exclusively on the opioid epidemic, Winthrop is tackling the issues that lead to substance abuse.