By Evie Sun
LOS ANGELES – Newly sworn-in Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón issued an open letter Friday after backlash that he received about his new policies which would eliminate all sentencing enhancements.
After being sworn in less than two weeks ago, Gascón announced that, on top of ending the death penalty and stopping the use of cash bail for misdemeanor or nonviolent offenses, he would be eliminating inmate sentencing enhancements.
A sentence enhancement increases prison time for defendants who have committed hate crimes, attacked police, or are ex-felons or gang members.
However, on Friday, after receiving backlash regarding this controversial policy, Gascón reversed course and announced prosecutors may now file sentencing enhancements for specific types of cases involving the “most vulnerable,” such as cases involving children, the elderly, and hate-motivated crimes.
Police unions, victims’ advocates and prosecutors raised concern that the elimination of enhancements would allow those charged with violent crime such as murder and rape to be released.
In response to this resistance, he reiterated his intentions for rolling out the policy.
“Enhancements are also the primary driver of a system of mass incarceration that needlessly siphons billions into jails and prisons, and away from our communities and the investments victims of crime want us to make,” Gascón said.
He also argued that sentencing penalties disproportionately affect populations of color and those facing mental health challenges, noting, “Enhancements are also three times more likely to be applied to defendants who are African American or mentally ill.”
In his statement, Gascón also announced that, to provide input and further guide policy directions made by his office, he has launched a victims’ advisory board made up of survivors and advocates.
“I recognize that there are some victims (who) want this office to seek the maximum sentence permissible in their case, but punishment must be in the community’s best interest, proportional, and it must serve a rehabilitative or restorative purpose,” Gascón explained.
Referring to his 40 years as an officer, Gascón added, “As I have for decades, I will work tirelessly to restore victims and help them on their journey to survivor. What I have learned from victims and advocates alike over the years is that few crime victims find healing from the trauma they’ve suffered simply by putting another in a cage.”
Gascón seeks to curb mass incarceration and adopt a rehabilitative approach in addressing the racial inequities embedded in the justice system.
“I have and I will continue to make sweeping changes to our systems of justice, and I will do it because it will make us safer,” Gascón said.
Evie Sun is a third-year student at UCLA, studying Sociology. She is from the East Bay Area.
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