On Monday December 7th George Gascón was sworn in as L.A. County’s District Attorney. During his inaugural address, Gascón unveiled sweeping changes to the criminal justice system of California’s most populous county. The progressive slate of changes include the end of cash bail, a ban on prosecutors seeking the death penalty, and no longer charging juveniles as adults.
Gascón has an illustrious career that includes being an officer with the L.A. Police Department, Chief of Police for both the Mesa and San Francisco Police Departments, and serving as the D.A. of San Francisco. Situations and experiences Gascón faced as a young officer have stayed with him, and they are instrumental in shaping his new agenda. In a series of tweets, L.A.’s new D.A. states “the criminal justice system is fundamentally broken.”
As a way to combat this broken system, one of the first changes will be the end of cash bail. Instead of seeking to hold criminal defendants in custody unless they can afford to post an amount of cash determined by a judge, prosecutors will be directed to ask judges to release them, except when someone is charged in a homicide or other violent felony. The cash bail system disproportionately impacts minorities and low-income criminal defendants. This is the system that lead to Kalief Browder being held in Rikers Island for three years, for allegedly stealing a backpack, because his family could not afford a $10,000 bail. Gascón lambasted this antiquated system on Monday, stating:
“How much money you have in your bank account is a terrible proxy for how dangerous you are. Today there are hundreds of people languishing in jails, not because they represent a danger to our community but because they can’t afford to purchase their freedom.”
Gascón’s promise to abolish cash bail is one of the ideas that helped him defeat incumbent D.A., Jackie Lacey. The former D.A. is viewed as overly punitive and Gascón’s policies are 180 degree turn from her harsh directives. This changing of the guard has also created opposition to the new progressive slate, namely from prosecutors and law enforcement officers within L.A. County. A veteran L.A. prosecutor views the incoming changes as a slap in the face and states “[Gascón’s] blanket policies do not take into account that we are the only people standing between truly dangerous criminals and the general public”
Not having the full support of the law enforcement agencies he needs to carry out these changes does not discourage Gascón. The new D.A. recognizes “this is a new path…whether you are a protester, a police officer or a prosecutor” and asks all to join him on this journey because he believes together “We can break the multigenerational cycles of violence, trauma and arrest and recidivism that has led America to incarcerate more people than any other nation.”