Newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced special directives aimed to reform the county’s sentencing and death penalty. The directives have met opposition, according to the Equal Justice Institative (EJI).
“I recognize for many this is a new path,” said Gascón. “Whether you are a protester, a police officer or a prosecutor, I ask you to walk with me. I ask you to join me on this journey.
“We can break the multigenerational cycles of violence, trauma and arrest and recidivism that have led America to incarcerate more people than any other nation,” he added.
Under Gascón’s Misdemeanor Reform directive, first-time offenders for non-violent or low-level crimes would not be prosecuted. Gascón recommends treatment and services, according to the Jan. 6 article.
Gascón meets obstruction in sentencing reform in Los AngelesUnder Gascón’s Misdemeanor Reform directive, first-time offenders for non-violent or low-level crimes would not be prosecuted. Gascón recommends treatment and services, according to the Jan. 6 article.
Gascón also plans to review cases that could resentence incarcerated people. Many were sentenced under enhancements and received what many consider excessive sentences. For current cases, prosecutors are directed not to file the sentencing enhancements, including under the Three Strike Law, reported the article.
“I really can see myself going home,” said P. Vines, a San Quentin resident, to the San Quentin News. “I just hope these types of reforms spread across California. We all need hope and our citizens need things to change also.”
California’s “tough on crime” era is rooted in sentencing enhancements, including gang enhancements. Recently, many people were falsely identified as gang members by LA police officers and placed in a state-wide database, noted the article.
“The vast majority of incarcerated people are members of groups long disadvantaged under ear-lier systems of justice,” said Gascón. “Black people, people of color, young people, people who suffer from mental illness, and people who are poor.”
These new policies are an attempt to correct the “over-y punitive” and “tough on crime” policies that voters seemed to reject with his election.
“I recognize those are big changes, said Gascón. “But they are changes that will enable us to actually protect the truly vulnerable.”
A special directive was issued around cash bail. Prosecutors were instructed to seek pretrial releases for individuals who were not charged with a violent felony, said the article.
“How much money you have in your bank account is a terrible proxy for how dangerous you are,” said Gascón. “Today there are hundreds of people languishing in jails, not because they represent a danger to our community, but because they can’t afford to purchase their freedom.”
The new policies have given most incarcerated people a sense that fairness may be at hand with the review of sentences.
“I feel it has really been a long time since anyone has cared about the little guy,” said J. Thienen, a San Quentin resident. “I read the Gascón article that he put out. I couldn’t believe the data he cited. It wasn’t just a story, it was mind-blowing.”
Gascón is leading the nation’s largest district attorney office. He formerly headed the San Francisco prosecutors office.
In early February, Judge James Chalfont ruled that a significant part of Gascón’s reform platform is illegal, specifically his plan to stop the use of sentencing enhancements in thousands of prior and current criminal cases. Chalfont said the Three Strikes Law obligates prosecutors to seek enhancements. Gascón has said he will anticipated resistance and will appeal the ruling, said the LA Times.