Press-Telegram (Long Beach)

Gascón must continue his efforts

- By Tom Parker Tom Parker served with the FBI for 24 years. He is a speaker for the Law Enforcemen­t Action Partnershi­p, a nonprofit group of police, prosecutor­s judges, and other law enforcemen­t officials working to improve the criminal justice system.

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.

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