Press-Telegram (Long Beach)
Gascón must continue his efforts
After several years as a police officer, I became an FBI agent to help protect our country by focusing on the most serious public safety threats to our citizens. I soon realized that in some ways, our justice system is set up not to prevent crime but to maximize prison sentences.
Long prison sentences have unintended consequences, helping to create hardened criminal defendants instead of rehabilitating them. Many prison inmates suffer from untreated mental illnesses, and in the absence of treatment, extended incarceration only makes them worse. A prime example I’ve seen time and time again is the counterproductive use of sentencing enhancements — which automatically add more time to a prison sentence because someone was a suspected gang member or had a weapon in their car, even if the weapon was not involved in the crime.
Two months ago, newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, a former LAPD assistant chief, San Francisco police chief, and San Francisco district attorney, implemented a common-sense policy to hold people accountable within normal sentencing guidelines without tacking on unnecessary sentencing enhancements. Just before the new year, he was sued by his own deputy prosecutors to prevent those policy changes. Having been a police officer myself, an FBI agent working with law enforcement officers and prosecutors all over the country, and an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Los Angeles, I am not surprised by this backlash.
I am surprised, however, that a respected Superior Court judge recently granted a preliminary injunction to block Gascón’s policies. It was a direct encroachment on the long-held principle of prosecutorial discretion.
These are not only bound by the laws they are employed to enforce, but also by prosecutorial policies promulgated by the district attorney and supported by the citizens who elected him.
Credible research demonstrates that one factor that can increase criminal recidivism is adding unnecessary time to someone’s prison sentence. It hardens criminal attitudes rather than fostering rehabilitation.
Unfortunately, we are misdirecting and wasting a huge portion of our already overstretched criminal justice resources by stacking on punishment for long-past offenses. Often those past crimes evolved from underlying issues like mental health problems, substance abuse disorders and poverty. Instead of investing in solutions to those issues, we punish the person, wait for them to reoffend and then punish them twice over.
I look forward to Gascón redirecting resources toward alternatives that actually prevent and reduce crime. As district attorney of San Francisco, he helped diminish re-offending with the “Make it Right” restorative justice program. This program gives crime victims a way to hold minors accountable when they admit responsibility for criminal actions. The children have to listen to the harm they caused, take ownership of their actions, answer the victim’s questions and agree on concrete reparations to make amends. The program has resulted in a sharp reduction in violent juvenile crimes, lower court costs and empty juvenile detention centers. By giving ownership and answers to victims, restorative justice programs also provide far greater victim satisfaction than the traditional justice system historically has done.
As a proud Californian, I believe that our state can lead the way in investing in a brighter future for our grandchildren and our society.