Dec 06, 2020
On his first day in office on Monday, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon unveiled a sweeping set of plans for criminal justice reform in the nation's most populous county, including moving to phase out cash bail for all misdemeanor and some felony offenses.
"We can break the multigenerational cycles of violence, trauma, and arrest and recidivism that [have] led America to incarcerate more people than any other nation."
--Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon
The Los Angeles Timesreports the new DA also plans to bar prosecutors in his office from pursuing sentencing enhancements in nearly all criminal cases, and is expected to end prosecution of first-time misdemeanor offenders.
Among the other campaign promises included in Gascon's reform agenda are prohibiting prosecutors from seeking the death penalty and no longer trying minors as adults.
"I recognize for many this is a new path... Whether you are a protester, a police officer, or a prosecutor, I ask you to walk with me," Gascon said at the first press conference of his new job. "I ask you to join me on this journey. We can break the multigenerational cycles of violence, trauma, and arrest and recidivism that [have] led America to incarcerate more people than any other nation."
\u201cThe money bail system is as unsafe as it is unjust. \n\nMoney is a terrible proxy for risk posed to society. \n \nSo today we will end cash bail for any misdemeanor, non-serious or non-violent felony offense. \n \nAnd I will end bail completely January 1.\u201d— George Gasc\u00f3n (@George Gasc\u00f3n) 1607374340
Gascon, a native of Havana, Cuba, championed many of the reforms he is now set to implement while serving first as police chief and then district attorney of San Francisco. In 2016 the then-San Francisco DA introduced an algorithmic risk assessment tool to determine who is eligible for pre-trial release without bail.
However, the system--although well-intentioned--was plagued by bias that could be every bit as harmful as the prejudices of the humans who designed it.
\u201cAs Los Angeles County's new DA George Gasc\u00f3n was sworn in Monday, he promised drastic reform.\n\nSome of the reforms include: eliminating cash bail, no longer pursuing the death penalty, and eliminating all sentencing enhancements. https://t.co/Su19yBC9Qq\u201d— The Sentencing Project (@The Sentencing Project) 1607376788
\u201cThis whole thread is a head-spinner. Gascon. Day One. No more cash bail. No sentencing enhancements. Three strikes cases to be re-evaluated. Police shooting cases re-opened. Diversion for youth, poverty, mentally ill cases. Witness services for cases of murder by police. Change.\u201d— Ava DuVernay (@Ava DuVernay) 1607379475
Gascon was also sharply criticized during his tenure in San Francisco--which followed that of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris--for his failure to hold police accountable during a period which saw numerous high-profile officer killings of Black and Brown men including Mario Woods, Luis Gongora Pat, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, and Alex Nieto.
Still, Gascon was also widely hailed--especially outside San Francisco--for his progressive policies and actions, including his decision in 2018 to wipe clean the records of thousands of individuals who had been charged with marijuana-related misdemeanors and felonies over the preceding decades.
\u201cSome incredible L.A. County criminal justice news in James's thread here: juveniles no longer to be tried as adults(!), death of cash bail, no sentencing enhancements(!), & more. Wow. This feels massive.\u201d— Ryan Gattis (@Ryan Gattis) 1607374781
San Francisco has since moved to eliminate cash bail. Shortly after taking office, current San Franisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin fulfilled his campaign promise to no longer request money bail as a condition for defendants' pre-trial release.
In 2018, outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill ending cash bail in the nation's most populous state. However, the bail bond industry challenged the measure, and a 2020 state ballot initiative that would have upheld the law failed to secure sufficient support.
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