By Julietta Bisharyan
LOS ANGELES – With election day looming, longtime, “tough-on-crime” District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced her sudden opposition to Proposition 20, a measure that would roll back portions of realignment and landmark reform measures, Propositions 47 and 57.
Proposition 20 supports the initiative to add crimes to the list of violent felonies for which early parole is restricted, recategorize certain types of theft and fraud crimes as wobblers (chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies) and require DNA collection for certain misdemeanors.
Elected in 2012 to the largest district attorney’s office in the nation, Lacey was the first woman and first African-American to hold the job. Once seen as a reformer, she has since been described as an aggressive crime fighter who has resisted efforts to drastically reduce prison populations.
Lacey first joined the district attorney’s office in 1986, when crime rate was at an all-time high.
“There was no shortage of homicides, homicide cases available for young lawyers to cut their teeth on,” she said. “It just seemed like a very violent time, gangs were full blown.”
Lacey’s opponent and former DA of San Francisco, George Gascón, voiced his opinion on her uncharacteristic opposition to Proposition 20.
“This is the DA that called realignment a ‘terrible mistake,’ who opposed Propositions 47, 57, 64, and that supports the death penalty. She prosecutes kids as adults and can’t bring herself to hold law enforcement accountable. She must have whiplash from changing her position so quickly,” said Gascón in a statement.
“The bottom line is that there’s a tidal wave of reform coming, and no matter how creatively she attempts to reinvent her record at the 11th hour Jackie Lacey is not getting a life draft. She has been one of California’s greatest impediments to criminal justice reform,” he added.
According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, every defendant who has been sentenced to death in LA county, since Lacey took office, is a person of color. Thirty-six percent of those defendants were represented by attorneys with serious prior or subsequent misconduct charges.
“As a career prosecutor, I believe the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for some crimes – a serial killer, someone who tortures and kills a young child, the person who rapes and then kills the victim to silence his only witness or someone who kills a police officer trying to do her job safely,” Lacey said in a statement.
“California voters have twice failed to abolish the death penalty. I will follow the law as prescribed by the citizens of California – whether that is seeking the death penalty for the most heinous crimes or, with the abolition of the death penalty, life without parole,” she continued.
Based on an analysis conducted by the Center on Juvenile Criminal Justice (CJCJ), Proposition 20 would drive up prison and jail populations, increase public spending on law enforcement and incarceration by hundreds of millions of dollars a year, in addition to diverting resources from programs that rehabilitate former offenders and hurt communities of color.
“Crime has continued to fall in California as reforms took place over the past decade—and any reversal of those changes would disproportionately impact communities of color in California, who are incarcerated at higher rates than whites,” noted Maureen Washburn, a policy analyst at CJCJ in an interview with KQED.
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