BPDA Statement on Remarks Made by Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins

Rollins slams the public defense community in an effort to raise issues of race and privilege in the public defender offices.

WASHINGTON (May 12, 2020) — The Black Public Defender Association issued the following statement today in response to Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins comments made during a live interview on WGBH-FM radio show. Rollins called public defenders “overwhelmingly privileged,” and chastised them for not returning client calls and complaining about being overworked.

“Reform-minded prosecutors do not have the standing or credibility to speak publicly on the plight of public defenders or Black, brown and poor people that have been disproportionately targeted by the unjust criminal legal system. As prosecutors their primary responsibility is to prosecute accused people, and this role should not be confused or conflated with the role of defenders. 

“While DA Rollins’ comments were problematic for several reasons, there are some systemic concerns that she raises about public defender offices that are worthy of discussion. We agree, systematic racism is prevalent in every part of the criminal legal system –even in public defender offices, and they need to do more to hire and promote black defenders to represent accused people who are often Black or Brown.

As Black public defenders, we know that public defender offices are grossly underfunded, and the lack of funding drives the injustices against our clients and the ability of defender offices to attract and to retain black defenders. And, without developed and supported Black advocates, defender offices will not be able to lead the charge against harmful biases and challenging cultural norms which will be necessary to beat back the behemoth that is the racist criminal legal system.”


The Black Public Defender Association aims to improve the quality of defense provided to low-income communities across the United States by creating and maintaining a national network of skilled Black public defenders that identify with and are committed to the populations they serve.