Maura Healey became the first openly gay attorney general after winning her election in November 2014. After graduating from Harvard College in 1992, Healey played professional basketball in Austria for two years before returning to America to attend Northeastern University School of Law. Following law school, she clerked for a federal judge and then worked for a private firm. Under former attorney general Martha Coakley, Healey served as the Chief of the Civil Rights Division and later directed the Public Protection & Advocacy Bureau and the Business & Labor Bureau.
Harvard Political Review: One of the top priorities of your office has been criminal justice reform. Where do you think we can see progress on this issue at both the state and federal level?
Maura Healey: Well, I think we need reforms when it comes to issues of criminal justice. I think that what’s important is that you look at the whole system. What is it that we need to do to keep people out of the criminal justice system, what are the things that cause people to become embroiled in the criminal justice system, and how do we reduce that? That’s time and attention spent on prevention and spent on diversion, particularly for young people. Diversion is programming that would provide an alternative to jail, which I think is incredibly important for young people.
We need to also focus on what’s happening to people who are incarcerated. So many people may find themselves in the care of a house correction or a jail, based on something they’ve done because of a mental health issue or a substance abuse issue. It’s really important that people are getting access to the treatment and the services they need.
And I think we need to work really hard to remove barriers that keep people from being able to move on with their lives once they get out of jail. One thing that I’m proud that we did here in Massachusetts this year is pass a law that ends the automatic suspension of drivers licenses for people who get convicted of non-motor vehicle offenses. Because if you get out and you don’t have a license, it’s going to be hard for you to get to a job or get to appointments or pick your children up from school. And these are very real stories that we heard from people who had these suspensions and couldn’t afford to pay to get their licenses reinstated.
These are just some of the things. We also need to look at sentencing reform. I’ve been an advocate of eliminating mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses, in particular because we need to have sentences that are proportionate to the crime and that ultimately serve justice.
It’s an important issue and one that we are focused on here in the state.
HPR: You’ve also been an advocate for addressing gun violence. How do you think we can curb this violence in a way that’s politically feasible?
MH: First of all, we have to do everything we can to get illegal guns off the streets. There are lot of guns in the hands of people who are a danger to themselves or a danger to others. One of the reasons we need a federal solution is because, here in Massachusetts we have some pretty strict gun laws and regulations, but surrounding states—Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine—it’s so much easier for people to go and purchase guns and bring them back here and traffic them. That’s a problem that needs a federal solution.
I think we also need to start talking about better prevention and intervention. We hosted an anti-violence summit with kids this weekend to educate them about the danger of guns. We still have accidental shootings, and we can do more education there.
I think we have to have a real conversation about public health and the fact that 91 people a day are killed in this country because of guns. That’s members of law enforcement, young kids, members of the community, victims of domestic violence. So we need to do be doing everything we can to address this issue.
HPR: Switching gears to another priority of your office, where do you think we can make progress on LGBTQ rights on both the state and federal level?
MH: In the state we need to pass the transgender public accommodations bill and close what has been a gap in the law. We’re behind 17 other states right now; we need to fix that. But I think that going forward we need to make sure that we deal with the reality that LGBT kids are more likely to be homeless, more likely to have mental health issues, more likely to have higher rates of suicides, and be bullied and harassed. We need to be working to protect those young people and make sure that they can grow up in a world where they feel safe. And I think for an aging LGBT population, we want to make sure that we don’t see discrimination in their ability to get into, whether it’s assisted living facilities or other places.
We also need to fight back against some of the use of religion as a justification for discrimination. That is being advanced in rhetoric and in court cases, and we need to be really clear that there’s of course always a respect for the free exercise of religion, but we shouldn’t let people confuse things. Discrimination is discrimination. Discrimination isn’t justified in the name of religious freedom.
HPR: We’ve seen a lot of high profile individuals and companies boycott North Carolina and other states in the past over discriminatory legislation. Do you think that when states or local governments ban state governmental travel, that’s an effective and appropriate way to influence another state’s legislation?
MH: I think that it is important whenever people speak up. That can take a lot of different forms. I think that when Bruce Springsteen says “I’m not going to play a concert in North Carolina,” that probably means something to some segment and that’s a good thing. When businesses say we’re not going to open up a facility here and more business do that and that has an effect on the economy, that’s a good thing.
I think that it’s good for people to find ways to advocate. That can take different forms. But what’s important to me right now, right here, in the midst of what we’re seeing in North Carolina, in the midst of what we’re seeing in the effort to roll back civil rights across this country and in certain places, is that we stand up here in Massachusetts and take care of businesses to make sure that we’re a place where everyone really is welcome. That’s why we need to take care of business and pass the transgender equality bill.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons/ Edahlpr