Gascon announced a sweeping range of reforms when he was sworn-in Monday, including no longer seeking the death penalty and not using gang enhancements for sentencing.
In addition, he has issued a memo to prosecutors in his office seeking to change how they deal with a range of low-level crimes.
The memo spells out misdemeanors which should be declined or dismissed before arraignment, with a number of exceptions at the discretion of the prosecutor. Among them: Trespassing, disturbing the peace, driving with no license or a suspended license, making criminal threats, drug possession, drinking in public, loitering to commit prostitution and resisting arrest, among others.
The exceptions include situations which may involve repeat offenses, domestic violence or physical force used against an officer, among others.
The policy also encourages the use of diversion programs which provide treatment rather than prosecution and jailing for many minor offenses.
It also discourages the imposing of fees and fines for such offenses, particularly for indigent defendants.
Gascon’s memo notes that a high percentage of people arrested for minor crimes suffer from mental illness, substance abuse or homelessness.
“Los Angeles County courts should not be revolving doors for those in need of treatment and services,” Gascon wrote
“Currently, over 47% of those incarcerated pre-trial on misdemeanor cases suffer from mental illness. Likewise, nearly 60% of those released each day have a significant substance use disorder. Meanwhile, individuals experiencing homelessness account for almost 20% of arrests in Los Angeles despite comprising only 1.7% of the population. The status quo has exacerbated social ills and encouraged recidivism at great public expense.”
The other reforms that Gascon announced Monday include shifts away from the use of cash bail and the death penalty.
When he announced his reforms, it sparked criticism from the Los Angeles police union and a former district attorney, among others.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing LAPD officers, issued a statement reading in part: “The new DA talks a good game, but his plans will do nothing but further victimize Los Angeles residents, especially Black and Hispanic residents who currently make up 70% of violent crime victims.”
Steve Cooley, who served as district attorney from 2000 to 2012, told Eyewitness News: “Basically I disagree with virtually everything he’s doing.”
Eliminating gang enhancements and three strikes, Cooley argued, will empower criminals in Los Angeles.
“Anyone who can read, can read the three strikes law and then uphold it,” Cooley said. “He’s throwing gang enhancements out the window. So, he’s really giving a green light to gang members in Los Angeles County.”
Supporters of Gascon, however, say he is correct to try to reduce mass incarceration in California and instead seek more rehabilitative solutions in addition to mental-health treatment for offenders.
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