GEORGE GASCÓN’S PLAN TO EXPAND DIVERSION, REDUCE INCARCERATION, AND PREVENT RECIDIVISM IN LOS ANGELES COUNTY
Decreasing Los Angeles County’s Criminal Justice Footprint through Evidence and Collaboration
I began my career as a Los Angeles Police Department officer walking a foot beat in Hollywood. I have since gone on to serve as a police executive, police chief, and the elected District Attorney (DA) of San Francisco. I understand the drivers of mass incarceration and am not only committed to remediating this serious problem, I have the experience, knowledge, and courage to put LA on the right path as the county’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer. That path will reserve incarceration for those that pose a danger when there’s no better option. That path will also elevate diversion and reentry practices to keep those who do not pose a threat to our communities out of the criminal justice system, thereby saving tremendous resources, reducing recidivism and prospective future victims, and reducing the criminal justice system’s tendency to exacerbate homelessness.
For too long LA County (LA) has suffered from high levels of local and state incarceration. This has had a devastating effect on the county, and especially on communities of color. LA operates the largest jail system in the nation, detaining 17,000 people every night, with another 16,000 individuals detained locally in other police and juvenile facilities. An additional 40,000 individuals sentenced in LA are incarcerated in California state prisons. LA’s contribution to the state prison population comprises over 32% of the total prison population, significantly exceeding LA’s proportion of the state’s general population. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office sends people to state prison at a rate exceeding 70% of California’s prosecutors. Jackie Lacey’s office sends people to prison at four times the rate I did as DA in San Francisco, and yet crime increased in LA County by 30% during Jackie Lacey’s two terms, while it dropped to the lowest levels in modern history during my two terms.
Mass incarceration does not make our communities safer. It destroys the fabric of our communities, budgets, and the moral authority of the criminal justice system.
Historically, LA has relied on enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration in response to many of the challenges our county faces. While these practices have been promoted as necessary to achieve public safety, they have failed to protect the residents of our county. Public safety isn’t achieved by prosecutions and prison sentences. Rather, public safety recognizes that poor people and people of color suffer from unhealed traumas and are all too often forced into unsafe housing conditions, underperforming schools, and communities with few opportunities to support growth and vitality. Public safety requires investing in these individuals and the communities they reside in. To achieve public safety for everyone, we must rethink the flawed traditional prosecutorial approach that incarceration equals justice, let alone safety. As LA DA, I will employ a holistic paradigm of public safety that requires individualized sentencing and treatment plans, which may or may not include appropriate incarceration, and restoratively holds people who commit crimes accountable, while acknowledging their humanity and capacity for redemption.
Instead of seeking to fundamentally solve or prevent traumas, our system currently is designed to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate individuals with whom we are mad at or frustrated. We have been conditioned to believe that making people go away—for short or long periods of time—makes the problem go away. Logic, along with a strong and growing evidence base, demonstrates the error in this thinking. By applying the blunt instruments of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration, we have not only failed to solve the underlying challenges that invoked law enforcement response in the first place, we have also damaged people’s lives, their communities, and have created an unsustainable and unjustifiable cost burden. Retribution is not the answer. The solution is in strategies that center data, science, collaboration, commitment, courage, and equity.
As your elected Prosecutor, I pledge to decrease Los Angeles County’s criminal justice footprint by advancing efforts to enhance diversion, reduce mass incarceration, and foster supportive reentry that will enhance the livability and safety of our communities. These efforts include:
- Alternatives to arrest, prosecution, and incarceration
- Repairing harm by reducing bias
- Implementing a Blue Ribbon Panel
- Decriminalizing, diverting, declining / reducing charges, and implementing a treatment and trauma-informed approach
- Pre-charging / pretrial diversion and detention reforms
- Neighborhood and behavioral health courts
- Data-driven decision-making through DA Stat
- Preventing recidivism through supporting successful reentry
- Developing an Advisory Board of formerly incarcerated persons to seek their input on office policies and practices
- Implementing an Alternative Sentencing Planning Program
- Instituting restorative justice diversion
- Supporting parole
- Implementing the Clean Slate Program
- Putting in place a Fines and Fees Taskforce
To accomplish these efforts, instead of relying on antiquated punitive forms of enforcement and punishment, I will draw upon successful innovations I implemented as the District Attorney (DA) of San Francisco, as well as upon many of the promising practices that are being developed and evaluated across the world. Under my leadership, the LA DA’s office will be transformed into a hub of innovation, and will be committed to a harm-reduction approach that prioritizes diversion, reduces mass incarceration, and fosters supportive societal reentry. Simultaneously, we will advance public safety and pursue true and equal justice. These values are not in contradiction and will nurture a much-needed cultural shift, from one that currently incentivizes these punitive practices to a system that instead rewards efforts that solve underlying challenges and minimizes harm.
Increasingly, since I was sworn in as a police officer over 40 years ago, we’ve lost our ability to distinguish the dangerous from the nuisance. By responding in punitive ways that often perpetuate harms, we have failed to fully fulfill our public safety mission. This is evidenced by the large number of crimes that are never reported—even when those crimes are serious and violent in nature—and the low rates of community participation, which results in many unsolved crimes and a culture that prevents many individuals from cooperating with law enforcement. We need to address this problem and we can do so meaningfully through implementing the practices described below.
In expanding diversion, reducing incarceration, and preventing recidivism in LA, we must keep victims and justice at the forefront of our strategy and recognize that most individuals who have been accused of committing a crime, have also been victimized at some point in their lives. We must therefore focus on shared safety, trauma recovery, and as prosecutors be knowledgeable of adverse experiences that may have contributed to the incident in question. Effective diversion, prevention, reentry, and ultimately decreasing incarceration hinges upon developing a clear picture of each incident that comes before the DA’s Office and all mitigating and aggravating factors. We must dedicate care and time to understanding each individual and their circumstances as fully as possible. With this knowledge and the practices described below, LA can cease its detrimental position as a leader in mass incarceration.
Alternatives to Arrest, Prosecution, and Incarceration
We can end mass incarceration in LA. I am confident because I led efforts in San Francisco City and County that reduced jail and prison populations at a pace that far exceeded that achieved elsewhere in the state and nation. At the end of my time as the San Francisco DA, the jail and prison incarceration rate was less than one-half the rate for California and less than one-third the national rate. If the rest of the country could match San Francisco’s rates, the number of individuals under correctional supervision would plummet from 7 million to 2 million. The nation’s 2.3 million prison and jail populations would decline to below 700,000 and “mass incarceration” would be eliminated. This reduction has not come at the expense of increasing crime rates. To the contrary, as declines in the correctional populations occurred in San Francisco, its crime rate also declined to historic low levels.
My commitment to eliminate mass incarceration began to flourish in San Francisco along with a number of reforms that have been implemented since 2009. San Francisco took full advantage of two key legislative reforms (Senate Bill 678 and Realignment) and more recently Proposition 47 to launch the following initiatives:
- San Francisco Reentry Council;
- California Risk Assessment Project;
- Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) and Community Corrections
- Partnership Executive Committee (CCPEC);
- San Francisco Sentencing Commission;
- Justice Reinvestment Initiative;
- Probation Standardized Risk and Needs Assessment;
- Enhanced Services;
- Jail Reentry Pod;
- Community Assessment and Services Center (CASC); and,
- A New Approach to Drug Offenses.
As detailed below, I will implement these and other measures to advance diversion and other alternatives to arrest, transform prosecution, and reduce incarceration.
Repairing Harm by Reducing Bias
Our nation’s criminal justice system generally and prosecution-specifically are biased and as such, create harm. We must repair this harm by reducing bias in prosecution. To reduce bias in prosecution, and more generally, leaders must have the courage to examine the racial, ethnic, gender, and other impacts and be willing to learn from these findings. I will be the DA who demonstrates the courage needed to address and fix this problem. Ignoring disparities allows them to continue and grow.
I will commission external and objective evaluations of the LA DA Office’s internal operations, case processing practices, and outcomes to uncover and remediate any inequities.
I was one of the first DA’s in the nation to advance such work in San Francisco. I provided prosecutorial data for academic researchers to analyze and publish findings in 2017 in the study entitled “An Analysis of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Case Dispositions and Sentencing: Outcomes for Criminal Cases Presented to and Processed by the Office of the San Francisco District Attorney”. This was an extensive evaluation that required a great deal of time and effort from myself as well as that of my office, which I fully supported and intend to replicate in LA.
Through an analysis of cases, the researchers found that racial and ethnic disparities in case outcomes tended to disfavor African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics relative to Whites. While the research revealed that, for the most part, these disparities were driven by characteristics determined prior to the DA’s handling of the case, I implemented a number of recommendations for which we felt DA practices could repair harm by reducing bias. Moreover, we advocated for upstream changes that contributed to racial disparities as well as for statutory change, such as the passage and implementation of California Proposition 47, of which I was one of the original co-authors. Proposition 47 has been found to have significantly narrowed racial disparities, including within prosecution. In fact, Proposition 47 had a disproportionate impact on African American defendants, narrowing the racial gap associated with a criminal history and being detained pretrial. In San Francisco, where I helped advocate for Proposition 47’s passage, we saw a 50% decrease in sentence disparities between defendants who were Black and White.
Post-Proposition 47, statewide pretrial detention and criminal history continue to drive disparities in outcomes between defendants. As LA DA, I will continue to advance this research and practice, particularly as it relates to minimizing detention of defendants’ pretrial and maximizing diversion opportunities that avoid conviction. With these efforts, disparities and bias can be reduced further and harm can be repaired.
Blue Ribbon Panel
Successful transformation of prosecution in LA requires examination, input, and assistance from local, state, national, and international experts. Confidence and courage are needed to ask for and benefit from much needed insights. Building on the model I developed in San Francisco, I will implement a Blue Ribbon Panel of experts and retired jurists from other jurisdictions who are regarded for their intelligence, experience, and non-partisan interests to conduct a top to bottom analysis of possible racial bias in the LA DA’s Office.
I will implement this model to examine and provide recommendations in other areas where improvements are needed.
Measures to Decriminalize, Divert, Decline / Reduce Charges, and Implement a Treatment and Trauma-Informed Approach
California and LA specifically must continue to decriminalize low-level offenses that perpetuate costly cycles of enforcement and mass-incarceration, while providing little to no public safety benefit. I have long supported utilizing discretion and decriminalizing efforts. Beginning as an officer on the street, who exercised his discretion in avoiding making arrests over trivial behaviors that often served to criminalize rather than treat public health concerns, I sought to apply enforcement only when absolutely necessary. As a police executive, I sought to minimize arrests and the associated collateral consequences. In my role as San Francisco DA, I supported numerous policies as well as ballot and legislative initiatives that have successfully reduced unnecessary incarceration. The LA DA is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in the county, and when elected I will work to advance these important efforts.
While formal statutory changes continue, I will develop and release publicly an expansive list of statutory codes / charges for which my office will decline to prosecute. This list will be developed in coordination with the LA City Attorney and the LA County Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group. The public will be invited to submit recommendations and provide feedback. This list will then be shared with all of 55 the County’s law enforcement agencies. Without a viable path to prosecution for these codes / charges, arrests and subsequent incarceration will be significantly reduced. Police officers and departments will be forced to shift and align their priorities.
We will seek to decriminalize and divert charges associated with homelessness, behavioral health (mental illness and substance abuse), and allegations involving a monetary value of less than $200. In the absence of formal decriminalization, I pledge to (a) divert these cases to interventions that do not entail incarceration; (b) reduce the charges to minimize the chance and length of incarceration; (c) decline to prosecute these cases; and (d) in all instances attempt to implement a treatment and trauma-informed approach. Under my leadership, the LA DA will transform the current criminal justice response to one that is grounded in community-based care.
For cases that cannot be dismissed or declined, we will work to fast track charging affidavits and all other court motions in order to expedite and support successful diversion, treatment, and reentry. Moreover, within the first year of my appointment as LA DA, all staff will be required to spend at least one day inside an LA County detention facility and/or California State Prison. It is essential that every prosecutor have an accurate picture of what punishment and incarceration looks, feels, tastes, and smells like. I firmly believe that no one individual should have the power to recommend a sentence to conditions for which they themselves can’t attest to or to which they have not had meaningful exposure. All prosecuting attorneys must be able to envision where people will live and the conditions they will experience—how they will be disconnected from their families, communities, and what their social conditions will comprise, as well as the available (or lack of) programming and treatment. This will be a major education for most prosecutors and is critical to transforming our system of justice to one that is equitable, minimizes harm, and fosters successful rehabilitation and reentry. I will request and advocate that all of the other LA County and City law enforcement agencies will implement the same or a similar policy. In late 2019, 39 prosecutors across the country themselves pledged to visit correctional facilities. This is a novel practice nationwide, but is something I have been committed to for years. While DA of San Francisco, I regularly met with prisoners housed in state prisons. I greatly benefited from these visits, as did my office’s practices, and the community at large. The LA DA’s office, and community too, will grow from this experience.
In late 2019, the LA Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group released their final report, consisting of 114 recommendations. Through a five-pronged strategy, the recommendations are centered around the principle of providing care and services first and incarceration as a last resort. The five strategies include the following:
- Expanding and scaling community-based holistic care and services through sustainable and equitable community capacity building and service coordination.
- Utilizing behavioral health responses for individuals experiencing mental health and/or substance use disorders, homelessness, and other situations caused by unmet needs; avoiding and minimizing law enforcement responses.
- Supporting and delivering meaningful pretrial release and diversion services.
- Providing effective treatment services in alternative placements, instead of jail time.
- Effectively coordinating the implementation of the Work Group’s recommendations, ensuring that strategies work to eliminate racial disparities and to authentically engage and compensate system-impacted individuals.
I personally support the Work Group’s recommendations and if elected as LA DA, my office will work to help implement them in the full.
Pre-Charging / Pretrial Diversion and Detention
While Proposition 47 helped reduce the number of individuals and the disparities of persons of color detained prior to charges being filed and on a pretrial basis, far too many people continue to be detained. Their detention negatively impacts their case outcomes. For example, individuals are more likely to be sentenced to incarceration and for longer periods of time, simply by the nature of being detained during the course of their court proceedings. It’s often nominal sums of money, often only several hundred dollars, that prevents individuals from being released from pretrial detention. And often the decision of police and prosecutors that determines if an individual remains in custody, prior to charges being filed.
The current DA’s diversion eligibility process is conducted manually. This is a clunky and slow process, which hinders participation in diversion programs, particularly for those individuals who suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders and/or are detained in jail pretrial. I will create a policy where a category of defendants are presumptively eligible for diversion provided there is a mental health or behavioral diagnosis and an opening for defendants to receive treatment. This policy will effectively deem individuals accused of most misdemeanor charges eligible for diversion, with the exception of cases involving intimate partner violence, guns, DUIs, and other exceptionally violent / dangerous cases. This change will save time and avoid slowing down the case resolution and placement processes.
As the LA DA, I will limit pre-charging and pretrial detention to those cases in which remand is legally required or in public safety’s best interest. This will entail not requesting bail or remand during pre-charging and pretrial phases. In instances when additional supervision is warranted, we will employ electronic monitoring devices that will allow individuals to remain in the community throughout court processing. Electronic monitoring will be paid for by the county in order to eliminate inequities in accessing freedom.
I will also implement a policy that does not allow cases to advance without appropriate assessments of risk, need, and identification of appropriate services / treatment linkages. This information is essential in order to make effective and data-driven decisions related to diversion, prevention, and reentry so that the prosecuting attorney has a clear picture of each incident that comes before them.
My focus as a DA is to support rehabilitation and to make victims whole. Restorative justice centers these values and served as the cornerstone of my office’s innovation and success in San Francisco. Launched in 2012, the San Francisco DA’s Neighborhood Courts are a nationally recognized and proven model for diverting adults facing prosecution for low-level offenses and will be a prominent feature of my strategy as LA DA.
Neighborhood Courts operate by empowering the communities that are directly impacted by these crimes. In 2014, LA City adapted this model, referring to it as the Neighborhood Justice Program. There are currently 12 Neighborhood Courts operating across the city. I will expand this program countywide. Modeled after San Francisco, non-violent misdemeanor and low-level felony cases that would otherwise be prosecuted will be offered the opportunity to have their case resolved in a Neighborhood Court, where trained neighborhood volunteer adjudicators will hear the matters, speak with the participants about the harm caused by their actions, and issue individualized “directives” designed to repair that harm and address risk factors. Participation is voluntary. Case processing and completion is much quicker and far less expensive. Cases are typically resolved within a couple of weeks; a fraction of the time it takes cases to resolve in criminal courts. Moreover, there are no lawyers or judges in Neighborhood Court, and proceedings are confidential. Once the participant completes their directives, the case is discharged, and the participant is eligible to have their arrest record cleared. If a case is not able to be resolved in the Neighborhood Court, it will be returned to the LA DA for prosecution.
Neighborhood Court participants in San Francisco are sometimes directed to pay “community restitution” to the Neighborhood Justice Fund, which is managed by the San Francisco DA. On an annual basis, these funds are distributed to community-based organizations for projects of their own design to enhance the safety, livability, and cohesion of San Francisco neighborhoods. In this way, participants are directly contributing to the vitality of the communities that have been harmed by their behavior–and doing so in ways that honor the communities’ values and priorities. I will implement a Neighborhood Justice Fund in LA and will work with community members and organizations countywide to develop a fund distribution plan.
Behavioral Health Courts
Many cases that currently come before the LA DA’s Office are related to underlying and unmet behavioral health needs. Building off the 15-year successful track record of the San Francisco Behavioral Health Court (BHC), I will implement a model court to work with individuals with serious mental illness who are charged with serious, often violent, felony offenses. This approach will help LA effectively manage and ultimately reduce the incidence and severity of cases involving individuals with serious and persistent behavioral health needs.
I will also expand this court to include a Misdemeanor Behavioral Health Court (MBHC), which will be calibrated to the exposure individuals face in misdemeanor cases. Through MBHC, participants will receive services from clinicians and case managers with expertise in engaging and serving justice-involved clients. The model will be augmented by specialized supportive housing for MBHC clients—which provides participants with both an incentive to participate and the stabilization needed to succeed.
While the MBHC will target individuals charged with misdemeanor offenses, these individuals often have lengthy histories of both justice system involvement and psychiatric hospitalization.
Early results of San Francisco’s MCHB have demonstrated the importance and value of this program and the potential it can have in LA.
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion
Developed in Seattle, Washington, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is an internationally regarded diversion program that serves as an alternative to incarceration and prosecution. While serving as the San Francisco DA, we implemented LEAD as a pre-booking diversion program to refer individuals accused of repeated low-level drug charges, at the earliest contact with law enforcement, to community-based health and social services. LEAD has proven to be a successful approach and as LA DA, I will adapt, implement, and evaluate LEAD locally.
DA Stat: Data-Driven Decision-Making
To transform prosecution in LA, we must precisely define, measure, and manage the desired outcomes. To measure the success in achieving our goals, and to demonstrate the value of using data to ensure the fair and effective administration of justice, in 2013 I created DA Stat in San Francisco. DA Stat resulted in the San Francisco DA’s office being recognized as one of the most renowned data-driven prosecutors’ offices in the country. As the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in LA, I will implement DA Stat to ensure that all prosecutorial decision-making—whether related to operations or fulfilling our public safety mandate—is data driven.
DA Stat is an essential element in promoting and changing the culture so that the LA DA’s office and all of its responses are grounded in getting results, and turning to a model grounded in community-based care rather than punishment. In May 2019, the San Francisco DA’s Office, under my leadership, became the first DA’s Office in the state to share prosecutorial data and metrics with the public via the DA Stat Dashboards. DA Stat was originally launched as an internal performance measurement program, to measure success in achieving SFDA’s goals. Since then, DA Stat has become one of the most robust prosecutorial accountability and transparency tools in the United States. DA Stat in San Francisco was a collaborative effort, involving multiple governmental agencies, academic partners, technologists, philanthropists, and the public. This approach is needed in LA and I will put it in place.
Preventing Recidivism through Supporting Successful Reentry
Virtually every Angeleno who is detained in a county or state lockup will be released at some point in time; most, in less than one year’s time. Historically, a significant proportion of those individuals have been caught up again in the criminal justice system, perpetuating the recidivism cycle. Recidivism often occurs as the result of technical violations to pretrial, probation, and parole supervision (aka community supervision). These violations can be as minor as interacting with another individual on community supervision, missing curfew, or failing a drug test. Recidivism may also occur as the result of being accused of a new crime. In any event, the most successful way to prevent recidivism is through supporting successful reentry. The LA DA plays an important role in preventing recidivism through supporting successful reentry practices and in this position, I will implement proven strategies to achieve this goal. Some of these efforts that I will deploy, including implementing a Formerly Incarcerated Advisory Board, are described below.
Formerly Incarcerated Advisory Board and Input
While DA in San Francisco, I founded the first-ever Formerly Incarcerated Advisory Board associated with a prosecutor’s office and I will do the same in the LA DA’s Office. The board will be composed of formerly incarcerated individuals, who will shed light on LA’s criminal justice system through the lens of those who have been directly impacted by the system. Members will meet regularly with me and my staff to discuss meaningful efforts to create supportive systems for safe and productive reintegration of formerly incarcerated men and women back into society.
As the San Francisco DA, I developed strong bonds with formerly incarcerated individuals and many of the programs that serve them. There is great capacity in LA that can benefit from a prosecutor who is committed to reducing recidivism and the barriers that prevent successful reentry. I commit to working closely with community-based organizations, service providers, and formerly incarcerated individuals to reduce recidivism and support successful reentry.
Alternative Sentencing Planning Program
I believe that prosecutors are pivotal in achieving recidivism reduction. Through the Alternative Sentencing Planning Program, I will provide LA DA prosecutors with the tools to accomplish this mission. Prosecutors increasingly recognize that they can—and should—play a key role in recidivism reduction, but they need practical tools to take the leap from ideal to real. In 2012, the San Francisco DA’s Office launched the Sentencing Planning (SP) program, becoming the first office in the State of California to hire a Sentencing Planner. Since then, the program has increased its capacity, and transforms the way that prosecutors approach cases by developing individualized sentences that address the needs and risks of justice-involved individuals. This model fundamentally shifts our prosecutorial mandate and approach, moving from the traditional metrics of conviction rates and prison terms to recidivism reduction and community safety. I will implement the Alternative Sentencing Planning Program in the LA DA’s Office and will take it to scale.
The SP model focuses on each individual and their readiness for rehabilitation through the application of evidence-based practices designed to reduce reoffending and increase individual accountability. An independent evaluation of the SP program, conducted by the University of California Berkeley, found compelling evidence that it reduces recidivism and prosecutor reliance on incarceration.
Restorative Justice Diversion
While serving as the DA of San Francisco, I partnered with community-based organizations to start a pre-charge, restorative justice diversion program for youth called Make It Right. Rooted in the wisdom of impacted communities, the model this program relies on centers the needs of those affected by crime and supports those responsible in taking accountability through facilitated, face-to-face conferences. The meeting culminates in a consensus-based plan to support the responsible youth in making things right. San Francisco’s Make It Right program has reduced recidivism by 40%, realized a 91% satisfaction rate among people harmed, and is a fraction of the cost of the juvenile legal system. In light of its overwhelming success, San Francisco is now expanding Make It Right to serve transition-age young adults (between 18- and 24-years-old). Make It Right has been a successful model and has since been replicated in jurisdictions across the country. I will integrate these same principles through my efforts to reform the youth justice system, as is described in my proposed policies to reform the youth justice system.
If elected as LA DA, I will increase the use of pre-charge, restorative justice diversion programs throughout LA for young adults and juveniles. To date, few DAs have been willing to relinquish control over processes to address crime to communities. I recognize that the pursuit of justice is worth the risk, and imagination.
When a defendant is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, the law presumes that they will be paroled, after serving the minimum sentence imposed, unless they continue to pose a risk to public safety. Thousands of people serving life sentences have been paroled in recent years and are leading positive, productive lives with an extremely low rate of recidivism. However, under Jackie Lacey, the LA DA has reflexively opposed parole in nearly all cases, even when the person in front of them has clearly demonstrated true change and rehabilitation. As DA, I will fulfill my ethical obligation to follow the law and support second chances for people who have worked hard to improve themselves and no longer pose a risk to public safety.
Successful reentry often requires a clean slate. Criminal histories—involving arrest, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing records—can be debilitating in terms of securing employment, housing, parental rights, public benefits, financial loans, and much more. As the SF DA, I helped lead a number of efforts that assisted individuals in cleaning the slate and starting over fresh, I pledge to do the same in LA. This is a pressing problem that is very much in need of attention.
Eight million California residents have criminal convictions on their records that hamper their ability to successfully reenter society. Millions more have old arrests on their record that never resulted in a conviction but remain as obstacles to successful reentry. Nearly 90% of employers, 80% of landlords, and 60% of colleges screen applicants’ criminal records. The Survey of California Victims and Populations Affected by Mental Health, Substance Issues, and Convictions found that 76% of individuals with a criminal conviction report instability in finding a job or housing, obtaining a license, paying fines or fees, and having health issues. A National Institute of Justice study found that having a criminal record reduced the chance of getting a job offer or callback.
Lack of access to employment and housing are primary factors driving recidivism, criminal records are serious barriers to successful reentry and come at a great cost to California’s economy. Nationally, it has been estimated that the U.S. loses roughly $65 billion per year in terms of gross domestic product due to employment losses among people with criminal records.
Historically, California law has allowed individuals to clear arrests that did not result in a conviction, and to clear convictions that are eligible for dismissal by petitioning the court. However, this imposes a burden on affected individuals to be made aware of their eligibility and retain an attorney to proactively file the necessary petition. It is estimated that these barriers have prevented over 90% of eligible people from obtaining record clearance, relegating millions of Californians to ‘paper prisons’ for life due to their criminal records. Barriers to accessing criminal record relief perpetuate the long history of disproportionate impact of the justice system on socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, and communities of color in particular.
In 2017, I sponsored the Consumer Arrest Record Equity (C.A.R.E.) Act. The C.A.R.E. Act helps people who have been arrested, but not convicted of a crime by creating procedures to ensure sealed arrest records are actually sealed, so they do not appear when an employer, landlord, or other third-party member conducts a background check. The Act established a uniform process for individuals to petition the court to seal their arrest records. The Act also updates criminal records at both the local and state level to ensure that credit reporting agencies and the California Department of Justice do not inadvertently disseminate sealed arrest information. The impact of unsealed arrest records is especially magnified for communities of color, who are arrested at higher rates compared to their size within the overall population. By removing arrest records for individuals not convicted of a crime, the C.A.R.E Act removes barriers that prevent successful reentry.
On the heels of the C.A.R.E. Act, in 2018, I proactively began to provide conviction relief to thousands of individuals with San Francisco marijuana convictions, dating as far back as 1975. This proactive marijuana conviction relief policy, the first in the nation, negates the need for those eligible to be made aware of the opportunity and retain a lawyer to file the necessary paperwork. Many of those affected lack the resources required to change their criminal record on their own. Researchers estimate that only 3% of eligible individuals in California have applied for relief under Proposition 64, which legalized the possession and recreational use of marijuana for adults.
As the LA DA I will build upon the successes of these expungement strategies and ensure that the automated processes are applied to individuals who are arrested and/or convicted in LA. This work will be streamlined as a result of efforts from 2019, while DA in San Francisco, when I co-sponsored Assembly Bill (AB) 1076, the most comprehensive automatic record clearance legislation in the U.S. which will expand employment and housing opportunities for millions of Californians.
AB 1076 was inspired by groundbreaking work that advanced under my leadership with the San Francisco’s DA’s office on Marijuana Conviction Relief, and builds on the success of the C.A.R.E Act. Through those efforts, it became clear that the most efficient and effective way to clear eligible arrests and convictions was to do so at the source—through automation—rather than require a decentralized, paper-based effort across California’s 58 counties. AB 1076 mandates that the California Department of Justice undertake the following automation measures for all persons arrested and/or convicted on or after January 1, 2021:
- Identify eligible persons whose arrests have not resulted in conviction and/or who have served their time and remained crime free;
- Add a notation to the record stating that relief has been granted;
- Prevent the dissemination of records that have been granted relief to a specific subset of employers and boards; and,
- Notify courts of cleared records and prohibit courts from disclosing cleared records to anyone other than the subject or law enforcement.
Through these steps, it is estimated that California will provide a path to true redemption and opportunity to a minimum of 100,000-200,000 Californians each year. Many more Californians will be benefited once state efforts to implement AB 1076 retroactively are complete.
Fines and Fees Taskforce
Fines and fees imposed by the criminal justice system can be debilitating and hinder successful reentry. I believe there are times when the best move government can make is stopping a harmful action or not being a barrier to a good policy. Reducing and eliminating fees does not reduce consequences, it reduces barriers to reentry. When we reduce financial barriers, we increase a person’s ability to secure employment, healthcare, and a place to live, facilitating successful reentry as well as victim restitution payments.
Convened in October 2016, the San Francisco Fines and Fees Task Force, of which I was an active participant while San Francisco DA, chose to focus on the elimination of criminal justice fines and fees charged to people exiting the system. The initial focus on “ability to pay” later shifted to address the question, “What are they paying for?” and “Are there instances where we (the system) can stop assessing fines and fees?”
In collaboration with the Financial Justice Project, Public Defender, Sheriff, Adult Probation, Juvenile Probation and Superior Court, the Task Force eliminated 10 county-controlled fees assessed by the Superior Court. Under my leadership, the San Francisco DA’s Office drafted and signed the petition to the Superior Court which lifted more than $32.7 million in debt from unpaid criminal justice administrative fees for 21,000 people. As LA DA, I pledge to examine the impact of criminal justice fines and fees and work to eliminate unmanageable and burdensome debts that don’t support recidivism prevention or successful reentry.
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The time for change has come to the District Attorney’s Office. Jackie Lacey has squandered eight years at the expense of providing much-needed diversion and prevention efforts, and instead has refused to meaningfully decrease the size of LA County’s criminal justice system. The evidence, collaborators, and determination exist to provide Angelenos with the justice system they deserve. A justice system that centers equity and seeks to end harm, especially that harm caused and perpetuated by the system itself.
We can and should reduce the justice system footprint. Rather than viewing the system as our default mechanism for addressing harm, we must recognize that much of this work may be done better by other actors, whether it be the community or other public systems, and through other models, such as restorative justice and treatment. In doing so, we must reduce the severity and punitive nature of our justice system. We need to scale back our default use of incarceration, long periods of criminal justice involvement, and overwhelming conditions of community supervision. In some cases, this should be replaced by linkages to other, more appropriate circles of support and accountability, including supportive pretrial release, diversion, treatment, and alternatives to incarceration. In other cases, we should look to research to help us determine responses, such as probation length and terms, based on risk and evidence-based practices. Finally, we can and must reduce collateral consequences that the justice system imposes on individuals, their families, and their communities. From fines and fees to barriers to much-needed services and benefits, we need to ensure that justice system involvement doesn’t cast a shadow over an individual’s ability to embark on a positive pathway to the future.
As District Attorney, I will work with all stakeholders to promote diversion and treatment and reduce incarceration and recidivism. Equally importantly, I will restore accountability to the Office and ensure that LA County is stronger and fairer as a result.