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George Gascón Sworn In As DA, Lays Out Extensive, Ambitious Series Of Reforms

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George Gascón (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles County has a new, reformist District Attorney, and he's wasting no time in making sweeping changes in the country's largest prosecutor's office.

After being sworn in shortly after noon today, George Gascón laid out a laundry list of immediate reforms.

Arguing that "turning public health problems into criminal problems does not serve the public interest," the new D.A. said he will "stop filing first-time misdemeanor offenses associated with poverty and mental health" — so-called "quality of life" crimes such as loitering or public intoxication. He said he'll work with police to expand social services offered at the point of contact.

Although California voters just retained the cash bail system by defeating Proposition 25, Gascón slammed bail for perpetuating class-based differences in criminal justice, and said he will no longer seek it for anyone who is charged with a misdemeanor or non-violent, non-serious felony.

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In addition, anyone currently in jail for one of those types of crimes can seek a hearing to have their bail revoked, and "my office will not contest their release," he said. Experts estimate that will lead to the release of hundreds of people from L.A. County jails, Gascón said.

Calling that move "just a first step," the D.A. said that by Jan. 1, "my office will roll out a plan to end money bail in L.A. in its entirety."

But that's not all. Gascón said he will end the use of sentencing enhancements, which can add years to a sentence for those who commit crimes while listed in the state's gang database or while using a gun.

Not only is Gascón ending the use of enhancements, but he announced an "unprecedented" review of thousands of cases to see who might be eligible for early release because of enhancements. He estimated some 20,000 state prison inmates will be eligible for consideration for early release. Those who committed violent offenses and those deemed a risk to the community would not be eligible.

The D.A. said he will no longer seek the death penalty, calling it "racist" and "morally untenable," adding that he is committed to resentencing L.A. County prisoners on death row to life in prison.

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Citing research that found locking up juveniles harms their health and increases the chances they'll commit future crimes, Gascón said he will stop charging juveniles as adults.

The D.A. said he's convening a "use of force review board" made up of policing experts, civil rights attorneys and community members. It will review hundreds of shootings by police officers and sheriff’s deputies going back to at least 2012, and "will make recommendations to my office as to which additional cases need to be reopened."

Gascón has already said he will reopen four shooting cases to review whether criminal charges should be filed against the officers involved.

The unions representing law enforcement and assistant DA's strongly opposed Gascon in the election, arguing that his policies would lead to an increase in crime.

The DA released a letter he sent today addressed to L.A. County's law enforcement community in which he made the case for his reforms and for collaboration, arguing, "We need to reimagine the way we’ve done business for the last half-century, and I need you at the table."

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