By David M. Greenwald
Marking 100 days in office, Los Angeles DA George Gascón took the opportunity to highlight what he considers to be a tremendous record of accomplishment for reforms enacted since he took office. The cost savings alone, from the reduction of enhancements, his office projects is into the hundreds of millions of dollars over just his first three months on the job.
“Since I took office I instituted a series of reforms based on data and science that will enhance the safety for our community while reducing racial disparities and the misuse of incarceration,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“Our efforts to reform a dated approach that creates more crime, more victims, more inequities are just beginning,” he explained.
Gascón presented a snapshot of his accomplishments in these first 100 days.
His time has seen a transformation in juvenile justice, ending “the practice of trying children as adults.
Dr. Rahn Minagawa, an expert in adolescent brain development, would later explain why this is such an important innovation and why this enhances public safety and how this approach is science-based and informed by the latest research.
“The death penalty is no longer sought in Los Angeles County,” he continued. “In 17 active cases, my office took the death penalty off the table.
“The death does make us safer,” he said. “It is morally wrong and fiscally irresponsible.”
He said it drags the families of victims through endless appeals, “forcing them to relive the trauma for a sentence that will never be imposed in a state with a moratorium. It has been shown that it is not a deterrent and therefore it lacks any public safety value. It costs taxpayers tremendously.
“That’s why we have done away with the death penalty,” he said. He noted that the rest of the industrialized world has done away with the death penalty and believes soon enough “the rest of the country will follow suit.”
Furthermore, he outlined that “enhancements are no longer sought in most cases as research suggests that excessive sentences don’t enhance safety, but do exacerbate recidivism, leading to more victims of crime.”
His office reduced the number of enhancements filed by 71 percent when comparing a three-month span between December 2020 and February 2021 to the same period the prior year.
“This is an extremely conservative estimate,” Gascón said. He found that “reductions equate to over 8000 years of unnecessary prison exposure time. At a cost of over $80,000 per year, the three months cost-savings are projected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
This is money that can now be diverted into education, public health, housing and other social services.
They are also retaining special prosecutor Lawrence Middleton, who prosecuted the officers in the Rodney King beating, to look at some of the more egregious past incidents involving the use of force.
Gascón also recently asked all law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County to turn over their list of officers accused of misconduct.
He pledged to root out corruption in government and recently filed charges against the former Mayor of Maywood and 10 others.
LaNaisha Edwards, the Los Angeles chapter coordinator of the Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, and Lenora Claire, an activist and survivor of violent crime, who both sit on the Crime Victims Advisory Board, spoke as well.
Gascón explained that he hopes to expand the capacity of the office’s Bureau of Victim Services and work with the advisory board to explore technological solutions to notify crime survivors more expeditiously.
“Together, we are working to build a system that prioritizes healing,” Edwards said.
“We will work to improve ways that crime survivors receive information and access to resources,” Claire said. “We will listen to the needs of the community and make recommendations to ensure they receive services and support during their difficult time.”
Dr. Minagawa noted that, with respect to juvenile hearings, factors like trauma and substance use should be weighed in.
“As a specialist in adolescent brain development, high-risk youth and trauma, I am honored to assist the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in its efforts to support and rehabilitate justice-involved young people,” Minagawa said. “Transfer laws have not been shown to deter crime and a summary of six large-scale studies found greater overall recidivism rates among juveniles who were prosecuted as adults than among matched youth who were retained in the juvenile system.”
District Attorney Gascón wants to boost staffing to review potentially wrongful convictions and launch a community-based group to review officer-involved fatalities.
He also announced that his office is partnering with the community and the Los Angeles Police Department to implement new measures that will include embedding veteran prosecutors in communities to help reduce violence.
A pre-filing diversion program is being created for those who are homeless, and/or suffer from substance use or a mental disorder. The program will be offered at 10 law enforcement locations and, once screened, individuals will be referred for onsite services. Cases will not be filed against those who complete the program.
“We are doing all of this because the science and data tell us so,” he said. “We can truly enhance public safety, increase equity, expand victim services and strengthen police accountability.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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