(Editor’s note: The Vanguard is proud to announce a new project in partnership with Incarcerated Allied Media. Thanks to Dr. Joan Parkin and D. Razor Babb. These articles are published by Incarcerated Individuals at Mule Creek State Prison and part of the Mule Creek Post publication.)
By J. Carson
LOS ANGELES COUNTY
District Attorney George Gascón announced policy changes to lock up fewer people and seek the early release of thousands of state prison inmates serving overly long sentences. “It is time to change course and implement a system of justice that will enhance our safety and humanity,” Gascón said in December.
During his inauguration December 7, Gascón announced that his office will no longer request cash bail for any misdemeanor or for non-serious and non-violent felony offenses, with the goal of eliminating cash bail entirely sometime in 2021. The DA will disband the Special Circumstances Committee — the body that decides which cases are suitable for capital punishment — and the office will not seek the death penalty in any cases; those already sentenced will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. In coordination with the passage of Measure J, setting aside 10 percent of the county’s annual budget for alternatives to incarceration (estimated at $300 million to $1 billion each year), the DA’s office will work to divert individuals into behavioral health services instead of charging low-level offenses related to poverty, substance use, mental illness, and homelessness.
The new policies are not without controversy, however. The union representing L.A. County prosecutors sued Gascón, and a February ruling was largely in their favor. Experts believe that the court’s decision could be appealed all the way to the state’s Supreme Court. The California District Attorneys Association filed an amicus brief in support of the union, despite its mission of advocating for elected prosecutors, and dozens of progressive prosecutors from around the county filed briefs in support of Gascón.
Last year, several “breakaway” prosecutors — including Gascón, San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin, and San Joaquin County D.A. Tori Verber Salazar — formed their own advocacy group, Prosecutors Alliance of California. Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) notes that “in the 10 years I have been [at the Capitol], we do see a shift” in the sway held by the California District Attorneys Association. It should be noted that these policy changes are not changes to state law, and apply to Los Angeles County only.
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