On his first day leading the country’s largest district attorney’s office, the top prosecutor in Los Angeles County announced sweeping criminal justice reforms aimed at “permanently” changing the course of California’s criminal justice system, reports NBC News. George Gascón, who was elected last month as a reformer, unseating the county’s first Black district attorney, said in a long thread on Twitter that the office will no longer seek the death penalty, which he described as “racist and morally untenable.” Of the 215 people on death row from Los Angeles County, 85 percent are people of color. Nor will prosecutors ask for cash bail in misdemeanor, nonserious or nonviolent felony cases — a system that he called a “terrible proxy for risk.”
Prosecutors won’t seek sentencing enhancements, such as those under the state’s “three strikes” law that can send people to prison for far longer terms. Gascón said that from 1990 to 1999 — five years after the law was passed — California’s prison population grew from 94,000 to 160,000. Under other reforms, children will no longer be sent to adult court, low-level crimes associated with poverty, addiction, mental illness and homelessness will be diverted to health services, and his office will review cases in which lengthy prison terms were “inconsistent” with sentencing and charging policies. The review could apply to at least 20,000 people behind bars. Cases in which people committed nonviolent crimes or are older and unlikely to commit more crimes will be given priority, he said. The office will establish a conviction integrity unit to review innocence claims, and a separate unit will examine writs of habeas corpus. Los Angeles’ police union called the reforms “disturbing” and potentially “disastrous,” saying Gascón is exploring “every avenue possible to release from jail those responsible” for a recent rise in violent crime.