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DA Gascón Defends New Policies, Says They Won't Endanger The Public

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L.A. DA George Gascón (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Just one day into the job and facing criticism from some of his own staff, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón today said his decision to lock up fewer people and shorten the sentences of people already behind bars will not endanger the public.

The DA's policy change on sentencing is one of his most controversial: Gascón will no longer seek sentencing enhancements for things like carrying a gun, and the retroactive nature of the policy will likely lead to the early release of possibly thousands of state prison inmates.

“First of all, we are not going to release anyone who is deemed to be dangerous by the Department of Corrections,” Gascón told our newsroom's public affairs show, AirTalk, which airs on 89.3 KPCC. He said the department has determined 95% of the inmates who have served 20 or more years of their sentences are safe to be released.

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“There is absolutely no correlation between lengthy sentencing and public safety,” Gascón said. Under his resentencing plan, more than 20,000 state prison inmates from L.A. will be eligible for consideration for early release.

Gascón brings an entirely different vision to the largest local prosecutor’s office in the nation, which has had the reputation of seeking long sentences for offenders. He said studies show that for every additional year of incarceration, inmates are between 4-7% more likely to commit a new crime when they get out.

One longtime deputy DA said many of his colleagues are dismayed and in despair about Gascón’s plans — which include ending cash bail, no longer charging minors as adults, and no longer filing charges against people arrested for offenses related to their mental health condition, poverty, or homelessness.

“I agree with him that there needs to be a more progressive approach,” said the prosecutor, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. “But I think there is a balance. We need to take into consideration our role in protecting public safety and victims … The pendulum doesn’t need to swing all the way to the right or all the way to the left.”

Gascón pushed back against harsh criticism from the union representing rank-and-file LAPD officers, which accused him of becoming an “ally” of “criminals and gang members.”

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The DA called the attack “predictable,” noting the union campaigned hard against him during the election and asserting it views his reforms “as an attack on their political power.”

Gascón’s new policies “are big and bold changes in the DA’s office,” said Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson. “I think he took the vote for him as a real mandate to change things around.”

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