By Katharine Q. Seelye
District attorneys are usually the ones asking the questions of those who run afoul of the law: Where were you on this night? Why did you do it? Do you feel remorse?
But the tables were turned on Tuesday at a rather unusual candidate debate for six people campaigning to become Boston’s chief prosecutor. The scene was a county jail and the interrogators were inmates in prison garb — soft cotton scrubs, some blue, some brown, some orange, depending on the status of their cases.
Their questions for the prospective prosecutors showed insider knowledge of the criminal justice system: Why is there so much pressure on inmates to take plea bargains rather than go to trial? Should undocumented women be deported if they are convicted of nonviolent crimes? With the rise in geriatric inmates, do you support medical marijuana in jail?
Sitting just a few feet from the candidates, relieved of handcuffs or other restraints, the inmates listened intently as candidates sought to portray themselves as fair-minded. And when it was over, those on the inside were thrilled to have participated in this ritual of democracy.
“I hope our voices are heard,” said Eric Miller, 46, who is accused of possession of a firearm. He asked the candidates about justice and said afterward that misfortune was to blame for many of the charges the inmates faced.