Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón is facing pushback from constituents over his platform for prison reform. Attorney Gascón has pushed against the death penalty, among other practices in the justice system. However, his detractors claim that he is “pro-criminal.” So, what is the truth, and how will this affect the California criminal justice system? Let’s take a closer look.
District Attorney Gascón states that the death penalty is costly and inhumane. Furthermore, Gascón says, “the death penalty does not make us safer. It is morally wrong and fiscally irresponsible.”
He has made several similar statements advocating for inmates’ rights. He argues that excessive prison sentences and steep fines do not change crime in California. Instead, mass incarceration only perpetuates racial disparities and furthers the power imbalance that plagues low-income neighborhoods. Furthermore, he believes that children should never be tried as adults.
To Gascón, the district attorney’s office is a place of refuge for justice, not an epicenter for revenge against perceived aggressors.
“I believe that as a D.A., we are the people’s lawyer […]. We certainly represent the community and not a single victim. […] we should do so through the lens of what is best for our entire community.”
While Gascón believes he was elected to rebalance the scales of justice, victims believe that he is overly sympathetic to criminals who ruined their lives.
From their perspective, Gascón is proving his support, and even encouragement, of criminal activity. They say that his progressivism is a direct threat to public safety and that if he continues to stay in office, victims of horrific crimes will not receive the justice they deserve.
There is now a petition with over 579,062 signatures to recall Gascón’s election. At the helm of the protests is Desiree Andrade, who feels strongly about the threat Gascón’s politics pose to safety.
Andrade says, “What he failed to mention was that he would cater to the most heinous offenders in our society at the expense of victims and let cold-blooded killers back onto our streets.”
While Andrade and Gascón represent two sides to the ongoing issues surrounding criminal justice reform, it isn’t easy to see who’s right. Both sides believe they are, and while their concerns are valid, there is not necessarily a “right” or “wrong” side when it comes to social justice. There’s only the truth. So, let’s take a look at the facts.
Incarceration in California
Once elected, Gascón inherited almost 90 juvenile murder cases. Some of these cases involve shockingly violent crimes committed by minors, leading many to the idea that these children should be tried as adults.
Gascón’s perspective on the matter is that no children should be tried as adults. His view is buoyed by studies that show the human brain is not fully developed until 25. So, according to Gascón and many other progressive activists, these children are capable of reformation.
Currently, California’s Division of Juvenile Justice houses nearly 800 juvenile offenders, and at least 100 of these offenders are in custody for homicide. The current juvenile justice system focuses on reform and reeducation to allow these offenders to reacclimate into society and pursue an ordinary, law-abiding life.
While the general tone of the juvenile system is reformation, victims and their families feel that a juvenile sentence is not enough to punish them for their crimes. Andrade and others believe that offenders convicted of murder and other violent acts should be punished more severely. In many states, the most severe punishment is the death penalty, but does state-mandated death actually deter criminal activity?
Well, the answer is not really. According to an evaluation by the ACLU, there are no credible studies to prove that the death penalty deters crime. Additionally, states that have the death penalty don’t have lower crime rates.
Based on the above statistics, the answer to “who’s right?” in the Gascón vs. Andrade debate is somewhere in the middle. The prison reform movement has proven that reform has its place and is necessary, especially when people are wrongfully jailed for racial reasons. Poor treatment and abuse in prison should also be evaluated, but reform falls short of its goal, especially concerning the juvenile system and the death penalty.
The truth is that when people lose loved ones to violent crime, they want justice, and sometimes what the state decides isn’t enough. Whether their opinion is right or wrong, nothing happens in a vacuum. For example, trying juvenile offenders as adults doesn’t solve the juvenile crime problem; however, it does affect communities plagued by police profiling and brutality.
So far, at least 14 of L.A. County’s cities have passed a vote of no confidence in Gascón. Unless he can defend his position, removal is not out of the question. But, regardless of the result, there is a far more important question about criminal justice reform being had in California.