Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger has become the latest prominent voice to support the effort to recall District Attorney George Gascón — saying “the last straw” for her was a report detailing how zero-bail policies are diminishing the effectiveness of a diversion program aimed at steering mentally ill, addicted or homeless people into treatment rather than jail.
“Diversion programs like this one seize a narrow window of opportunity to offer treatment and housing to arrested individuals who’ve hit rock bottom,” Barger said in a statement. “But the quick release option put in place by Gascón’s policies squanders that opportunity. If there’s no rock bottom, there’s no incentive to accept help — instead, we’re left with a squandered opportunity to end suffering and help heal some of our community’s neediest individuals.
“As a result, I feel compelled to add my voice in support of the recall effort,” Barger said.
A report in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, May 20, detailed how nearly three-quarters of the 283 people eligible for the “Alternatives to Incarceration Diversion Program” –– begun at the LAPD’s 77th Street jail last summer — declined to participate. “Dozens” of others failed to comply with its requirements, the newspaper said. The Times quoted LAPD Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher as saying the program has been “largely hampered” by the no-bail policies enacted by the court and Gascón. The policies went into effect during the coronavirus pandemic, and were aimed at keeping people charged with minor offenses out of jail.
The Times quoted Pitcher as saying the quick releases that emerged from the no-bail policies are, in many cases, preferable to long treatment programs for people who would be eligible for the diversion program.
While Barger cited “our D.A.’s `zero bail’ policy” as her reason for supporting his recall, Gascón did not actually initiate those policies — the court did, in its pandemic-related decision Asked about that disparity, Helen Chavez, a spokeswoman for Barger, told City News Service, “That is accurate — at the end of the day, the buck starts with the court ruling, but Gascón has been, in his official role as D.A. … a strong supporter of the policy as well. And so she’s reacting to that angle.”
“It’s kind of ironic — he’s been a proponent of diversion programs, but at the same time of a zero-bail policy that has worked against some pretty effective … some very well-planned and thought-out diversion programs. So that’s what she was reacting to,” Chavez said.
Gascón was elected in 2020, and Barger’s statement Friday went on to say that while she supports election results, “our D.A.’s policies have led to disastrous consequences.”
“Public safety in L.A. County has visibly deteriorated,” Barger said. “I believe Gascón must be replaced with someone that is committed to championing victim’s rights, safety and justice. There is no doubt in my mind that recalling Gascón is an essential step so that we can course correct and refocus on creating safe and healthy communities.”
Gascón defeated two-term incumbent Jackie Lacey on a platform of criminal justice reform, but now faces possible recall for policies that some say have gone too far in that direction at the expense of public safety. The policy changes include no longer seeking death sentences, abandoning sentencing enhancements that could lead to lifetime imprisonment for all but the most egregious crimes, and more lenient treatment of juvenile lawbreakers.
Gascón has repeatedly defended his policies, saying his stances were well-known during his campaign and his election signified public support of his agenda. He has also defended the directives on eliminating most sentencing enhancements, citing data on recidivism to back up his case, and pointing out that some crime victims support his changes.
On Feb. 18, Gascón issued a memo walking back some of his most-debated policies — bans on special-circumstance allegations that could result in life-without-parole prison terms and on transferring cases involving juvenile defendants to adult court.
The recall effort must collect 566,857 signatures from registered Los Angeles County voters, 10% of the county’s registered voters. The deadline for submission to the county registrar is July 6. If enough valid signatures are submitted, the recall would likely appear on the November ballot.
A similar recall effort against Gascón in 2021 failed to gather enough signatures to qualify. But a continuing rise in crime over the past year — including a wave of “smash-and-grab” robberies in the Los Angeles area — has exacerbated concerns over whether the new direction taken by the District Attorney’s Office might be encouraging criminal behavior. Among the current or former public officials who have backed Gascón’s recall are Sheriff Alex Villanueva, former District Attorney Steve Cooley, and former Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, representing 8,000 deputies, has also supported the effort. The Association of Deputy District Attorneys — the collective bargaining agent that represents more than 800 deputy district attorneys in Gascón’s office — voted overwhelmingly to support the recall effort. Roughly 83.3% of ADDA members took part in the vote, with 97.9% voting in support of the recall, according to the group.