By Carlin Ross
LOS ANGELES – Dignity and Power NOW, a Los Angeles based grassroots organization that fights for the dignity and power of all incarcerated people, supports District Attorney George Gascón’s progressive policy changes.
But the county’s deputy district attorneys, or line-DAs, do not, and they spent another day in court this week to continue their suit challenging Gascón’s new policies aimed at ending sentence enhancements in the criminal justice system.
Since taking office on Dec. 7, Gascón’s policies of ending sentence enhancements and opening up cases for resentencing are what Michael Saavedra, Community Engagement Organizer with Dignity and Power NOW, calls “crucial day-one moves.”
The legacy of line-prosecutors’ deeply racist and classist “tough-on-crime” era, however, dates all the way back to the 1980-90s. For decades, this mindset has driven line prosecutors to seek incarceration without considering the negative consequences it would have on those within the community.
As Dignity and Power NOW claims, “line-prosecutors have long been indoctrinated into a culture of extreme sentencing, rewards for prosecution, and an adherence to over-reaching prosecutorial bravado.”
On Dec. 30, the deputy DAs filed a suit challenging Gascón’s progressive policy changes to sentence enhancements, including opposition to gang enhancements and the “three-strike” enhancement.
Given the prejudiced and racially unjust history of line prosecution and the criminal justice system as a whole, Dignity and Power NOW said it was not surprised when the suit was made … just disgusted.
Dr. Lamia El Sadek, Executive Director of Dignity and Power NOW, charges, “For the Deputy District Attorney’s Association to sue Gascón because he implemented progressive policy changes that were promised on the campaign trail is regressive and abhorrent.
“We know that voters chose a transformation of our criminal legal system, leading away from an era of tough-on-crime approaches and towards an era of investing in care and community. The Deputy District Attorney’s Association is attempting to block progress to protect their own interests.
“This selfish, insidious approach harms our community members and stalls the progress of our movements. We cannot stand for it,” Sadek said.
Defending the “tough-on-crime” sentencing enhancement mindset will be a difficult task for the Deputy District Attorneys, as empirical evidence and data reveal the toll the hyper-punitive sentencing takes on the lives of those incarcerated. Some data even goes to show how these approaches to criminal justice are counterproductive.
The Sentencing Project, for example, writes how “increasingly punitive sentences add little to the deterrent effect of the criminal justice system, and; mass incarceration diverts resources from program and policy initiatives that hold the potential for greater impact on public safety.”
Dignity and Power NOW urges citizens to support Gascón’s reforms because deputy DAs are seemingly only concerned with keeping and maintaining power for themselves, not with protecting the community.
As Lex Steppling, Dignity and Power NOW’s Director of Campaigns and Policy, says, “the Deputy DA’s are showing a commitment to a long discredited status quo rather than a commitment to public safety, accountability, and ethics. They should be utterly ashamed.”
Despite the controversy, Gascón has promised to reopen the 2012 cases of officer-involved use-of-force and officer-involved shootings. Gascón, alongside his office, is committed to working with the Law School at the University of California, Irvine, to reopen these cases.
Helen Jones, whose son, John Horton’s life was unjustly taken by the LA Sheriff’s Department in 2009, said that “it’s essential that all of our cases be reopened. Any time when the County Coroner is in question, cases should be reopened to reveal what really happened to our babies and to give grieving families answers.
“Gascón is taking a first step, and for District Attorneys to be undermining him in court proves that they are in bed with law enforcement and would never actually hold killer law enforcement officers accountable.
“Rather than challenge Gascón on these enhancements, we need to be focused on supporting his policies of reopening families’ cases, and push him to look back further than 2012 to make sure that no families get left behind,” she said.
Dignity and Power NOW’s Michael Saavendra said that “people have already done their time, and having them do extra time for a sentencing enhancement when they could come home early is wrong. By re-sentencing people…currently serving a sentence enhancement, people have a chance to re-enter our communities earlier, and have their lives outside of prison begin again.
“Challenging Gascón’s directive to end the filing of sentence enhancements is a vengeful, immoral move on behalf of the Deputy District Attorneys,” Saavendra closed.
Carlin Ross is a senior at Santa Clara University who double majors in English and Philosophy. She’s originally from Bozeman, Montana.
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