Katia Santiago-Taylor, BARCC advocacy and legislative affairs manager, speaks at a State House press conference about proposed reforms.
This week, Gov. Charlie Baker proposed reforms to the process by which potentially dangerous defendants are released before trial. Boston Area Rape Crisis Center Advocacy and Legislative Affairs Manager Katia Santiago-Taylor offered the following statement in response:
“The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center is committed to supporting all survivors of sexual violence, including those who seek justice from the criminal legal system. Survivors require procedural and restorative justice, in addition to criminal justice. This means that survivors must be treated with respect, and that police and representatives of the court must communicate with them consistently and with more transparency. Regardless of whether their cases can be prosecuted, survivors who are respected and believed throughout the process have better health and wellness outcomes.
“The first and most powerful way to do this is to ensure that survivors are informed about what is happening with their case, including timely notification when an offender is released from custody. Massachusetts is one of 17 states that participates in the Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) system, which alerts survivors and others if an offender’s custody status changes. Currently VINELink only offers notification of release from the Department of Correction and Essex County Sheriff Department. It would be a much more powerful tool for survivors if it was used in every county and also offered notifications of release at various levels, including release from courthouses and jail.
“Additionally, the number of sexual assault charges that qualify for 58A dangerousness hearings should be evaluated. That said, any changes to this practice must be based on evidence-informed policy and practice to ensure that the dangerousness hearings are not being over- or misused.
“As always, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center works in close partnership with stakeholders throughout the criminal legal system, including community-based groups advocating for reform of the system so that it no longer disproportionately impacts communities of color. We remain wary of reforms proposed in response to outlier cases as they often have unintended consequences that do more harm to communities than good.
“We look forward to working with the governor, legislators, and other community-based programs as this bill makes its way toward its final form to make sure that survivors are better served and that reforms are not implemented in ways that propagate systemic racism. We also look forward to greater focus and investment in prevention strategies, the need for which is underscored every time we engage in discussions about criminal legal system reform.”