By Amy Berberyan and Jazmine Colon
LOS ANGELES, CA – Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón sparked controversy here last week after reaffirming his position against the death penalty—citing racism, classism, cost and overall ineffectiveness as his reasoning.
“I am against the death penalty [not only because] it doesn’t work in making us safer, but we know that the death penalty as it’s being applied,” said D.A. Gascón, “has been disproportionately applied to people of color, to poor people, to people with mental health problems.
“In fact,” he continued, “over 50 percent of the people [on] death row today, including those from this county, which is approximately 250, have severe mental health problems.”
D.A. Gascón added, “We also know that it’s horribly expensive. You can put somebody in prison for the rest of their life for about $100,000 a year at current dollar amount. Somebody on death row, assuming that they’re healthy, is about a half a million dollars a year.”
Research conducted by Loyola Law School shows that California spends an annual $184.2 million maintaining its death penalty system. CA spent over $4 billion from 1978 to 2011.
“Yes, I am against the death penalty,” DA Gascón reiterated, adding this stance did not mean he was against the idea of accountability or punishment for crimes committed.
He maintained that criminal accountability is possible without the death penalty, which ultimately “costs taxpayers millions” and provides no added benefit to public safety.
According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), “increasing the severity of punishment does little to deter crime.” In fact, it does the opposite in some cases by increasing recidivism rates. The NIJ study also maintained that no link exists between the death penalty and criminal deterrence.
“Stop protecting criminals,” tweeted one user under DA Gascón’s post. “Another reason to show you the door,” a second user tweeted.
In the past, Gascón has asserted his opposition to the death penalty under any circumstance.
Shortly after taking office in 2020, the district attorney issued numerous criminal reform policies, including ending a reliance on cash bail and requests for enhanced sentences, not seeking the death penalty and re-evaluating sentences for people who have served 15 years in prison.
The office continues to revisit several previous capital cases. Yet, the sudden policy changes coupled with multiple instances of re-offense following Gascón’s intervention has caused the district attorney to backpedal on some of his directives.
“I want to reaffirm my commitment to the core values I expressed when I took office,” Gascón said in a statement. The DA continued, “like every responsible office, we learn as we go, take feedback from the community, and make necessary adjustments based on our experiences and the complex nature of this work. That is the responsible way to govern.”