After being sworn in today as Los Angeles County's 43rd district attorney, George Gascon announced that his office would no longer pursue the death penalty, try juveniles as adults, seek cash bail for misdemeanor and non-serious, non-violent felonies, or add gang enhancements to criminal complaints.
"We will work to correct the injustices of the past," Gascon said. "This is how, in a state that led the way in `tough on crime,' California can lead `forgive now' and turn the tide of mass incarceration and start anew."
Gascon - a former LAPD assistant chief, onetime Mesa, Arizona police chief and San Francisco district attorney -- was sworn in after defeating incumbent Jackie Lacey's in last month's runoff election. Gascon - positioned himself as a reformer in the race. Gascon won the Nov. 3 election with 53.53% of the vote to Lacey's 46.47%.
In addition to working to resentence prisoners on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Gascon said his office would reevaluate sentencings in thousands of cases that include gang and other enhancements. His prosecutors will no longer file gang or three-strike allegations and will dismiss those allegations on pending matters.
"Experts estimate that at least 20,000 people sentenced to prison from L.A. County are serving sentences far longer than they would receive under the charging policies I announced today," Gascon said, putting that total at one-fifth of the state's prison population.
"Punishment must be proportional and in the community's best interest," he said during remarks livestreamed after his swearing-in ceremony.
Gascon said he will prioritize individuals for resentencing who have already served excessive sentences, are convicted of non-violent crimes, are deemed low-risk for release and those who are especially at risk for COVID-19.
While it's not clear how he plans to pay for such a massive undertaking, Gascon contends that the work will ultimately save taxpayers money.
"It will also save California taxpayers billions of dollars," Gascon said. "Billions of taxpayer resources that can be put back into our communities, into public health, housing and education -- the solutions that actually enhance long-term health and safety for our community."
He said the process will include input from victims.
Anyone sentenced to prison as a child will also be on that priority list, Gascon said, after pledging that his prosecutors will no longer seek to try minors as adults, effective immediately.
Even more work is ahead for local prosecutors, as Gascon said attorneys for any defendant behind bars awaiting trial for a misdemeanor or non- serious, non-violent felony charge could immediately request a hearing to revisit bail. The new D.A. said his office would not contest such requests for release, which he anticipated would involve hundreds of people.
"Our system of money bail is as unsafe as it is unjust," Gascon said, "How much money you have in your bank account is a terrible proxy for dangerousness."
He promised that his office would also present a plan by January to eliminate cash bail.
The new district attorney pointed again and again to racial inequities in the criminal justice system.
The D.A.'s office will no longer file first-time misdemeanor charges for quality-of-life offenses, will increase diversion programs and will offer victims' services to families whose loved ones were killed in an officer- or deputy-involved shooting, no matter the circumstances.
"We will never get there with small incremental changes," Gascon said. "While my methods have changed, my law enforcement journey has always been the same. It's one about preventing crime, reducing recidivism and restoring victims."
The Los Angeles Police Protective League contends that the D.A.'s moves will endanger the public and lead to rising crime.
"As homicides, shooting victims, and shots fired into occupied homes soar in Los Angeles, it's disturbing that Gascon's first act in office is to explore every avenue possible to release from jail those responsible for this bloodshed," an LAPPL statement reads. "The new DA talks a good game, but his plans will do nothing but further victimize Los Angeles residents, especially Black and Hispanic residents who currently make up 70% of violent crime victims."
The Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Association of Deputy District Attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.