By Kianna Anvari
SACRAMENTO – A criminal justice reform webinar here last week at the Sacramento Press Club featured Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, campaign strategist Dana Williamson, and executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, Jay Jordan.
The conversation covered topics from bail reform and recidivism, to defunding the police, and was moderated by Robert Greene from the L.A. Times and Marisa Lagos from KQED
Jordan spoke on the topic of safety, claiming that prior to 2010, the criminal justice system was invested in the notion that incarcerating people would create public safety. However, he said it is a crucial fact that people want a different approach to safety today.
Similarly, Williamson added that voters are consistently talking about the idea of rehabilitation rather than punishment by the criminal justice system.
Lagos noted that the newly elected DA Gascón was already receiving pushback from line district attorneys and police unions about his plan to end cash bail in Los Angeles. But Gascón countered that although Proposition 25 did not pass in California, he has received support from L.A. voters.
“How much money you have in your bank account should not determine whether you’re going to be free or not,” Gascón said, adding that he has been approached by some legislators who want to take a second look at cash bail reform in California.
Measure J in L.A. County also passed with substantial margins, as a process to reallocate resources and move away from carceral institutions, and re-direct funding to public health and other services.
Another substantial change that DA Gascón will be making is no longer filing charges for first time misdemeanors.
“We’re not saying don’t make the arrest,” said Gascón. “We want to give officers the opportunities to remedially divert so that we don’t have to file a case. We’re talking about law enforcement assisted diversion.”
Gascón added that prior DAs did not use the programs that were available to them, like L.A. County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry and the alternatives to incarceration structure.
“Let’s let these other folks provide the early intervention, which we know is more likely to work, than putting someone in a concrete box for a few days, then they come out and do exactly the same things they were doing before,” said Gascón.
Regarding recidivism, Jordan insisted that the proliferation of background checks implemented after 9/11 made it increasingly difficult for people to move forward with their lives after cycling through the criminal justice system.
“The question is: do we in California believe in redemption or not?” said Jordan. “And if we do, why do we continuously archive these old legal files that have nothing to do with public safety?”
Gascón agreed, stating that people do not have the opportunity to be fully re-integrated into society, therefore resulting in our high recidivism rates.
“The reality is that there is a point where you start moving away from your criminogenic background,” said Gascón. “People don’t realize that if you have a criminal record, there are about 700 different ways you won’t be able to participate in a full civic life.”
Greene asked Gascón about the extraordinary cooperation that his office will need from the police for his new direction. He told Greene that a lot of work needs to be done on policing, but that cities like Seattle have modeled new processes for law enforcement and public services.
Jordan added that funding incentives ought to align with what people are asking for, from the federal level all the way down to city contracts with the police.
Williamson said that COVID-19 impeded the thoughtful conversations that the legislature would have had this year about police reform.
“Defunding the police was never about dividing communities from safety or getting rid of all safety apparatuses,” said Jordan. “It was literally about putting less money into a system that has consistently murdered unarmed Black people. Black people are scared that 911 might kill us. [Defund the police] is saying, defund the fear.”
Gascón maintained that there is not the same level of pushback 30 years ago when education, mental health, and housing were being defunded. He added that there needs to be a conversation about “rightsizing” the police department.
Kianna Anvari will earn a Master’s in Public Administration from San Diego State University in May 2021. She is from San Diego.
To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice – https://tinyurl.com/yyultcf9
Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link: