New voices are growing in California’s District Attorneys’ offices with the goal to bring modern and diverse approaches to public safety, according to a KQED article.
A small group of DAs has formed a progressive law enforcement association, also known as the Prosecutors Alliance of California.
“What is clear is that the criminal justice system we have had in this country no longer serves our best interests,” said Cristine Soto DeBerry, executive director of the initiative, told KQED. “And arguably never did serve our best interest.”
The alliance consists of Diana Becton of Contra Costa County; Tori Verber Salazar, San Joaquin County; Chesa Boudin of San Francisco; and George Gascon, recently elected Los Angeles County DA.
As some law enforcement agencies seek to undo criminal justice reform gains, the group and its advocacy members are set to be an alternative voice in those discussions. The new alliance plans to educate and lobby Sacramento lawmakers against measures that may be harmful to criminal justice reform.
Like this year’s Proposition 20—the measure was bought and supported by law enforcement agencies to repeal Proposition 47 and other reforms that aim to reduce the overcrowded prison population in the state. The measure failed to pass on the November ballot.
“I find that very insulting. I am a voter and I take my voting responsibility very seriously,” said Salazar to KQED, noting 60% of people voted for reforms such as Proposition 47 prior to the repeal attempt. “So, are you really saying 60% to 65% of our community is uneducated and ignorant and didn’t know what they were voting for?”
To restore people’s trust and confidence in the system, the progressive DAs see the need to provide real debates around reforms with their counterparts and the state Legislature.
“It changes who’s speaking for law enforcement, right?” said journalist Emily Bazelon, author of the book “Charged,” which shows how the power of local prosecutors has increased mass incarceration. “So, if you have district attorneys united in saying that sentencing reform is a bad idea, or it’s not safe—that sends a really strong message. (But) If you have some DAs on the other side, even if it’s the minority, saying “Wait, wait, wait, we don’t need these heavy sentences to do our jobs … that really changes the conversation.”
Changing that conversation can be frustrating for the progressive DAs when they speak to other hardliner DAs about different approaches to issues.
“The problem that I struggled with was that there wasn’t space for other voices to be heard. There wasn’t a space for growth and change,” said Salazar, on why she joined the alliance. “Every time that there was an opportunity to look at criminal justice differently and to have that really difficult conversation and really look at our role in all of this… instead of saying, ‘This is an opportunity,’ they immediately went to opposition and opposed all criminal justice or most criminal justice reforms.”
Different counties have different perspectives on criminal justice issues. San Francisco is not like Riverside, said Vern Pierson, head of the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) and DA of El Dorado County to KQED. The CDAA represents 57 DAs and 4,000 non-elected prosecutors in the state, according to the article.
“I don’t have a problem with the new organization,” said Pierson. “It represents a small segment of that.”
He notes that the two parties can partner on some issues.
“I will definitely get backlash for this,” said DA Salazar. “I didn’t start my career thinking I’m going to be sitting next to these guys (the alliance). I had to have that very difficult conversation with myself as to what was my ethical and moral responsibility and what was my fiscal responsibility to my community. And how do I start healing it by building trust and transparency.”
“It certainly sounds good,” said Shawn Barth, San Quentin resident to San Quentin News. “It’s been a long time coming.