District Attorney George Gascón Friday outlined plans to reorganize his office’s gang unit and co-locate prosecutors in police stations in hopes of creating closer community ties.
Gascón remarks came during a news conference he co-hosted to promote Assembly Bill 1127, which would eliminate the use of juvenile offenses to impose tougher sentences on adults.
“Overcriminalization of young people leads to higher levels of recividism,” the D.A. told reporters, citing research showing that the human brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s, leading young people to make more impulsive decisions.
Overhauling the juvenile justice system is one of several initiatives the D.A. has taken on in the name of creating a more rehabilitative system of justice in Los Angeles County. Doing away with gang and other sentencing enhancements other than for the most serious, violent crimes is another.
In response to questions about reports that he planned to cut some of his units, including the one responsible for prosecuting gang activity, Gascon said prosecutors would soon be working out of the Los Angeles Police Department’s 77th Street, Newton and Van Nuys stations. The D.A.’s office is currently handling about 700 active, serious gang cases, and Gascon promised that he would “hold the people accountable” and continue to prosecute gang crimes, “but we are looking at this through the lens of public health.”
The plan is for the community to play a lead role in how the work takes shape.
“Unless we deal with the root causes of these problems effectively, we will never create a sustainable solution,” Gascón said. “Violence should be treated as a public health problem.”
He declined to say how many, if any, prosecutors might be reassigned or let go, characterizing the change as a realignment and decentralization of the unit’s work.
“We believe that actually we can be more effective by having closer connection with the community rather than working from a centralized basis,” he said.
Though juvenile delinquency proceedings are not criminal proceedings, strikes in the juvenile system are currently counted the same as an adult strike. AB 1127 would allow a juvenile adjudication to be vacated rather than being considered as a serious or violent felony conviction during future sentencing. Gascón said Black and Latino youth are more likely to end up with a strike on their record and more likely to have that juvenile strike applied in future sentencing.
“It creates further destruction in our communities,” Gascón said.
The bill will be heard by the Assembly’s public safety committee next week.