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Criminal Justice

DA Gascón: In 3 Months, I’ve Cut Prison Sentences By More Than 8,000 Years

L.A. County DA George Gascón. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón made a claim today you don’t usually hear from a prosecutor: He projected criminal defendants charged in his first three months in office could spend at least 8,172 fewer years behind bars because of his policy of generally not trying to lengthen their time in prison with sentencing enhancements.

Speaking on his 100th day in office, Gascón claimed this will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

The DA’s office calculated the number of years by comparing Gascón’s first three months on the job to the same period a year ago, when Jackey Lacey was DA. The office found under Gascón, prosecutors had filed 5,138 fewer gun, gang and other enhancements during that time, a whopping 71% drop.

If those defendants are convicted, their shorter sentences will save the state prisons $664 million, according to Gascón. He based that estimate on the average yearly cost to imprison someone in California, which is just over $81,000.

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“Those savings can now go to education, mental health and housing,” Gascón said. “And obviously those savings will only increase with time.”

“That’s pure fiction,” said Eric Siddall, vice president of the Association for Deputy District Attorneys. He said there would be no savings because the cost of running a prison essentially remains the same, regardless of the size of its population.

Instead, the dramatic drop in prison time means more crime, said Siddall, who predicted “incalculable losses in public safety.”

Gascón is among a growing number of prosecutors who argue the justice system has locked up too many people for too long with no real public safety benefit. “There generally is no correlation between the length of a sentence and the likelihood that someone will not commit crimes,” he said.

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