By George Gascón
Los Angeles County District Attorney
I want to address some policy changes that we are making in our office, which made the news earlier this week. I want to reaffirm my commitment to the core values I expressed when I took office. We do not believe that children should be tried as adults. We should treat kids like kids and give them every opportunity to grow and change. We also do not believe people should be sentenced to death in prison. People change and evolve – most often, for the better. For too long, our system operated without recognizing this fact, ignoring entirely the capacity people have for change. We must restore that underlying value into our justice system. While we maintain our commitment to these principles and will continue working to improve our system, there are some cases and situations that require a different response. We have made some adjustments to our policies to account for these exceptions.
Like every responsible office, we learn as we go, take feedback from the community, and make necessary adjustments based on our experiences and the complex nature of this work. That is the responsible way to govern. I have always been open to learning and growing in this work. When I started in policing 40 years ago, I believed that arresting and jailing people would bring us safety. However after several decades of work, it was clear to me that we needed a more nuanced approach. The same is true now. While I remain committed to the core values of our policies, I have seen a small number of cases that presented real challenges. As a result, we are making minor adjustments to our policies on juveniles and LWOP to allow for exceptions in the most extraordinary of cases.
Specifically, we learned a lot from the Hannah Tubbs case about the need for a policy safety valve. Rather than the usual case where a child is arrested close in time to their crime, police arrested Ms. Tubbs at 26 for a crime she committed as a juvenile. Ms. Tubbs had several charges in other counties after the juvenile offense but never received any services, which both her past behavior and that subsequent to her arrest demonstrates she clearly needs. After her sentencing in our case, I became aware of extremely troubling statements she made about her case, the resolution of it and the young girl that she harmed.
Unfortunately, our juvenile system in its current iteration does not provide adequate support to help someone at 26 with this level of challenges except through the adult system. While for most people several years of jail time is adequate, it may not be for Ms. Tubbs. If we knew about her disregard for the harm she caused we would have handled this case differently. The complex issues and facts of her particular case were unusual, and I should have treated them that way. This change in policy will allow us the space to do that moving forward.
We have now implemented policies to create a different pathway for outlier cases, while simultaneously creating protections to prevent these exceptions from becoming the rule. Any time a prosecutor wants to deviate from our core principles, they must put a request in writing. That request will then go to a committee, staffed by my most trusted advisors, who must evaluate the case and approve any requests to pursue an exception. This process ensures that only in the rarest of cases, where our system has failed, will we diverge from our principles.
We do not always get it right, as no one can, but we do believe that our fundamental beliefs are the right ones. Kids should be treated like kids. People should be given an opportunity to grow and change. Victims and survivors should be given support, and we should always provide every opportunity for all people in the criminal legal system to receive what they need to heal. We will continue to uphold these values.