DA, sheriff join ‘Beyond Big Cities’ national initiative



Staff Writer
Published: 6/17/2021 8:22:33 PM

Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan and Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan have joined a national initiative to promote innovative practices in non-urban communities amid the national conversation around criminal justice reform.

The New York City-based Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice recently launched the Beyond Big Cities initiative, which aims to focus on jurisdictions that are not among the urban, often well-resourced prosecutors’ offices. Beyond Big Cities is a multi-year program that aims to support medium and small offices, with the support of Microsoft’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiative.

The group held its first meeting on Friday, and Sullivan said he thought it was a good initial conversation. Over the course of continued meetings, participants will discuss initiatives such as restorative practices, as well as bail and sentencing reforms.

“It’s a think tank for best practices for how you make communities safer but also reduce incarceration and recidivism,” Sullivan said in a press release. “It’s for us to learn from other jurisdictions and for us to share what we’ve done well. You always have to innovate in the criminal justice system, but why reinvent the wheel?”

Sullivan said that because the involved communities are small, the ideas that are traded back and forth are more likely to be applicable to each participating community, including Franklin County. He said he felt Donelan “hit the nail on the head” with his comments regarding the importance of collaboration.

“We’re there to listen and learn, and find out if there are any innovative programs that would work for us,” Sullivan said Monday. “What’s good about this is you’re not dealing with cities, which have a good amount of resources, monetarily and otherwise.”

According to Sullivan, conversations will continue on the first Friday of each month for about a year. He said the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office ran a restorative justice program in Franklin County for over 20 years.

“So I think we have a lot to offer,” he said.

This program ended about a year and a half ago due to a retirement, but Sullivan said he is advocating to have this position funded again. In the meantime, his office has been looking for outside organizations to help run the restorative justice program.

When Sullivan signed on with the Beyond Big Cities initiative, which was primarily prosecutors from small or mid-size jurisdictions, he suggested the institute invite Donelan, who was eager to join.

“I am really impressed that the institute asked for a sheriff’s perspective and I am honored to be involved in a movement to bring best practices to the prosecution of crimes,” Donelan said in the press release. “Massachusetts is really years ahead of the nation with its use of diversion and alternatives to incarceration, so D.A. Sullivan and I have a lot to offer to this national conversation and I am sure we will learn some new strategies as well.”

Beyond Big Cities brings together 23 elected prosecutors and other criminal justice stakeholders from around the country to discuss the issues they face. The group aims to explore how prosecutors can overcome their unique challenges, rely less on incarceration and reduce racial disparities. The goal is to create best practice guides that will provide smaller offices with information on how to implement change in their communities.

“Since its founding in 2015, the IIP (Institute for Innovation in Prosecution) has worked extensively with elected prosecutors in large jurisdictions to reimagine their role as their communities’ chief law enforcement officers,” Institute for Innovation in Prosecution’s Deputy Director Alissa Marque Heydari said in the press release. “We at the IIP believe the next step is to partner with prosecutors in smaller jurisdictions. It is imperative that we include and uplift prosecutors in communities that may lack the resources of big city offices but are just as committed to justice and equity.”

To learn more about the Beyond Big Cities initiative and its members, visit prosecution.org/beyond-big-cities.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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