A majority of victims of violent crime in Los Angeles County feel the criminal justice system failed them and that resources should be invested in crime prevention instead of incarceration, according to a poll released Thursday by a nonprofit group.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón — who has drawn fire from the families of some crime victims over a series of directives issued just after he was sworn into office last December and is the target of a potential recall — said the poll commissioned by Californians for Safety and Justice “confirms what similar national surveys have shown: The vast majority of victims are seeking healing, restoration and rehabilitation rather than retribution.”
“It is exploitative and disingenuous for proponents of the policies of mass incarceration to justify the expense, troubling racial disparities and non-existent safety benefit in the name of a survivor community that overwhelmingly does not agree with them,” Gascón said in a written statement.
The poll — which found that just 21% of victims received help understanding the courts and the legal system and that fewer than three in 10 victims reported that they received victim support services — illuminates “how much we must do to advance the needs of victims,” Gascón said, noting that his office will work to bolster the services provided by his office as quickly as possible.
“We can and must do better to support victims on their journey to survivor,” the district attorney added.
Just over 60% of the violent crime victims polled reported that they favor shorter prison sentences and spending more money on prevention and rehabilitation over prison sentences that keep defendants in prison for as long as possible, with the same amount saying that they favor rehabilitation, mental health treatment and drug treatment over punishment by time behind bars, according to the organization.
The poll also found that 65% of the respondents favored taking individual circumstances into account over automatically adding extra years onto a sentence because of prior convictions, and that 69% said they favor solving neighborhood problems and stopping repeat crimes through prevention and rehabilitation even if it means fewer convictions compared with prosecuting crimes to get as many convictions and prison sentences as possible, the organization said.
Eighty percent of those polled said they supported reducing prison sentences for prison inmates who participate in rehabilitation, mental health, substance abuse, educational or vocational programs, and an even larger number of survivors of violent crime — 82% — favor alternatives to incarceration such as diversion, mental health treatment, restorative justice and community services.
“Our communities are in the midst of a violence and homicide crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and decades of systemic failure to advance real safety solutions in communities most harmed. We simply cannot afford to react in a way that just responds to harm and violence after it has already occurred,” said Tinisch Hollins, who is the executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice and has lost two brothers to gun violence.
“This is an issue that must transcend politics. Human lives are at stake,” Hollins said. “We must ensure we invest in the policies and approaches that science and data have proven to prevent violence and harm from occurring in the first place.”
Californians for Safety and Justice bills itself as “working with Californians from all walks of life to replace prison and justice system waste with common sense solutions that create safe neighborhoods and save public dollars.”
The poll, done by David Binder Research over a seven-day period in early February, involved responses from 724 crime survivors in Los Angeles County.