Columns, Op-Eds, & Interviews Reform at the LA DA's Office

Op-Ed: The importance of George Gasćon’s Three Strikes reform & what you should know about the pushback from LA prosecutors & police unions

WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

by Jody Armour

California’s three strikes law has done 28 years of damage to our state.  In the wake of the tragic murder of Kimber Reynolds in 1992 and Polly Klaas, in 1993, Californians understandably found themselves wracked with fear for their safety and for that of their children. We did not, however, take a long, hard look at what we could do to prevent crime, reduce recidivism, and truly and effectively support victims, as we should have. Instead, we listened to the claims of law enforcement unions and elected officials who insisted that they could only ensure security by locking up people with criminal records for as long as possible.

As a result of this nearly-uniform narrative, which preyed on people’s heightened anxiety, we implemented one of the harshest and least effective laws in the country. Under the original three-strikes law, if a person ever had a previous conviction for a crime of violence, a new charge resulted in an enhanced sentence, no matter how minor the new offense. Those in the third strikes category received mandatory sentences of 25-years to life. The prison population in California exploded, and people’s futures ended.

Despite the promises of the three-strikes proponents, the law did nothing, statistically, to make us safer.

To the contrary, in 2012, when Californians voted to roll back its “strikes” policy, in the first eight months after the ballot proposition’s passage, over 1,000 individuals were released from custody under Prop. 36. Of those released, their recidivism rate showed only 2 percent charged with a new crime, a number well below state and national averages.

Now, L.A’s newly-elected District Attorney George Gascón is hoping to put three strikes to bed for good, at least in Los Angeles County. On his first day in office, Gascón promised his office would no longer seek sentencing enhancements based on prior records. Going forward, accused individuals in Los Angeles will face sentences appropriate for their current charge, and not extreme terms, over-inflated by past offenses for which they have already served their time. Gascón’s stance is long-overdue, and it is exactly the one Angelenos elected him to take.

Predictably, the same tough-on-crime voices that always  oppose reform are pushing back. The LA Association of Deputy District Attorneys and the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), the LAPD’s union, are claiming that the policy is unfair to victims, that crime will explode, and that dangerous people will be immediately released to the streets. The ADDA has even taken the unprecedented step of suing to enjoin this policy in court.

None of their sky-is-falling claims are true. These are long-since rejected and recycled arguments, and the public should not be fooled.

Strike enhancements have never kept us safe. In the mid-1990’s, when violent crime started coming down across the nation, California did not experience a greater drop in crime than many of the states without those laws. In fact, New York, which did not have three strikes, experienced a much sharper crime drop.

Looking at California alone, one study noted that crime dropped by 21.3 percent in the six most lenient “three strikes” counties, compared to a 12.7 percent drop in the toughest counties.

Over the years, study after study continued to disprove the three strikes claims.  Nor are these sentencing enhancements necessary to incapacitate the most dangerous people.  If someone commits a dangerous crime, they can be sentenced accordingly for committing that dangerous crime. People charged with serious offenses won’t be let off lightly, despite what the ADDA  or the LAPPL would have the public believe.

While failing to keep us safe, strike-enhancements have brought a slew of problems with them. Prosecutors have used these enhancements as a cudgel to force unjust plea agreements. Faced with the possibility of a lengthy sentence, individuals feel extreme pressure to plead guilty in exchange for the enhancement withdrawal, rather than take the case to trial. That gives the government leverage to extract a pound of flesh even when it has a weak case or when the person is innocent.

Like sentencing enhancements in general,  second and third strike laws disproportionately impact Black people. According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute, Black Californians made up about 6.5% of the population but 36% of second strikers and 45%  of third strikers. The disproportion persists even when adjustments are made for the rates of felony arrests.

The disparities in arrests by race have long been documented. Enhancement policies make those racially disparate effects worse, and also allow biased prosecutors — consciously or subconsciously — to disproportionately crack down on communities of color.

Second and third strike laws also provide no support for victims. A life sentence doesn’t provide a victim with trauma counseling. It doesn’t provide a victim with financial restitution (in fact, that sentence makes it harder to receive monetary recompense), and it doesn’t provide medical care for those who have experienced harm. Given that these laws added a whopping $19 billion to the state’s prison budget, these enhancements and the cost of their enforcement likely detracted from our ability to help victims heal.

We have every reason to support D.A. Gascón’s policy, and no good reason to oppose it. That doesn’t mean the tough-on-crime crowd won’t try to convince us otherwise, but Angelenos will not be fooled. We heard and rejected their arguments in 2012 when we passed Proposition 36, we rejected them again last year when voting on Proposition 20, and we rejected their cries against reform when we voted for Gascón. Their sky-will-fall  story is tired, and we know it.

Under Gascón’s leadership, we will finally end the racist and costly legacy of California’s strike laws.

This change is long past due.


Jody Armour

Author Jody Armour is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law at the University of Southern California. A member of the faculty since 1995, Armour’s expertise ranges from personal injury claims to claims about the relationship between racial justice, criminal justice, and the rule of law. Armour studies the intersection of race and legal decision making as well as torts and tort reform movements.

He is the author of N*gga Theory: Race, Language, Unequal Justice, and the Law.

 

12 Comments

  • victimLA.com

    “Like sentencing enhancements in general, second and third strike laws disproportionately impact Black people. According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute, Black Californians made up about 6.5% of the population but 36% of second strikers and 45% of third strikers. The disproportion persists even when adjustments are made for the rates of felony arrests.”

    Blacks also make up 30% of homicide victims in this state and 90% of homicides are typically committed by a person the same race as the victim… What are we doing about this justice warriors???

  • Why are you “Guests” never people who like or support cops? You claim to not be anti-cop yet that’s all we get from the “Guests” I’ve seen here. This guy, long time cop hater, looked him up. Typical SC lib douchebag. Loved mixing it up with the Trojans every chance I got, overrated whiney little kids. Nope, I’m not a Bruin alum and didn’t care for them either but they acted way classier than the SC boys.

    This idiot is a BLM cop hater whose been wanting to defund us, according to him, for a very long time. Blacks talk about how rough they have it from cops and the system but put themselves in the crosshairs 24/7 because they lack impulse control like no other people I deal with. Just how it is. Don’t ask me to explain it, but the overwhelming amounts of videos on line show it and books and academic papers are out there that prove it.

    No “Guests” you can find that want to come here and speak to those truths huh? Just these types.

  • Come on man, you this is Celeste’s “baby”, she’s the “Head Honcho, The Big Kahuna, the Boss” and she doesn’t care about being “fair or balanced”. It’s here website, blog, digital column, manifesto or whatever you want to call it. She clearly exercise her right to post articles and give a platform to those that are in line with her idealogy and refuse “service” to those whose views whose are counter to hers. If your looking for “real journalism” or “unbiased reporting” versus one-sided biased-propaganda style of story telling your in the wrong place.

    Side Note…

    Regarding the “research” DA Gascon and his idealogues love to go on about.
    Research, pseudo-facts and the the statistics used to support ones view, hypotheses, theory and desired outcome can in fact be “tweaked” to support your idealogy, the “research” behind the Opiod epidemic is probably the largest example of that in modern times. So much for having blind faith in “research”.

  • Unions should stay out of this.

    Elections have consequences.

    Let it all burn.

    Protect your people from frivolous department nonsense.
    Encourage them to obey all speed laws when rolling to a hot call. No need to hurry, anywhere.

    Don’t chase anyone on foot or in a car.

    Punch in, punch out.

    Watch it all burn and punch out at 30 years.

  • Fifi-
    I am beginning to think you do not listen to me. Nevertheless, I will try to explain it once again. The reason there are no cop-loving racists as guest writers on this site is because this is Celeste’s site and she can invite whomever she wishes to contribute. Obviously, she does not want you or your racist ilk. It really is that simple. Start your own blog and you can invite anyone your little fat-clogged heart desires. I am sure the Klan Gazette or the Proud Boys Daily will allow you to be a guest.

    BTW, black folk “lack impulse control like no other people…” And, you are not racist, my friend? Do you really not see it? You are racist. Be proud of it, its who you are. Embrace it. So much for your claim that Celeste does not allow you to post unless your writing is “pristine.” Do those psychological or personality tests you gentlemen have to take to join the force not catch this. I guess they use the Thurmond & Wallace instead of the Myers & Briggs.

    And, do not be upset at the Trojans because daddy did not have the money to send you there or your grades weren’t up to par. You are one bitter and angry man.

  • Cf, our own little Rachel Dolezal is at it again. Talcum x , the great white defender of the sacred little people, and smiter of the wicked wrong thinkers. Cf you ought to take a page from aoc’s book, she’s coming to grips with the sexual trauma in her past. Tell us your story, let it out, it’ll do you good.

    As for professor Jody, it’s knucklehead “expert” policies like this guy’s from the 60’s and 70’s that led to huge crime waves in the first place. And it was those crime waves that brought on the three strikes laws. But Jody doesn’t lack confidence, just like his predecessors he knows exactly what will happen when criminals are released, so much so he’s ready to tell you “what you should know” as if he has any clue.

  • Oh boy, look at you CF, not finishing a post of mine to try to make a point that just can’t be made. What a damn little coward you are, course that’s always been a given here but thanks for pointing it out yourself.
    First of all, as I’ve said, I mentor, still, at risk youth, do you? Think they’d hang out with me, couldn’t wait to in fact if they thought I was a racist and I speak to them exactly as I speak here. My friends do as well, try to explain to them how to avoid a life that will be a hard and maybe short one.
    In your gutless attempt to paint me as you truly are, a racist, you went with the…instead of my last words when I spoke of the impulse control of Blacks, I’ll remind you. They lack the impulse control “like no other people I deal with.” You got that sissy? I speak from actual experience and thousands of cops from all races would agree with me. It’s not racist at all, when it’s based on a fact. Plenty of proof out there to back me up, go ahead and challenge it with something besides the juvenile name calling which is all a racist ever has.
    Oh, my family could pay for any college education I wanted, they just didn’t need to. My education was free. I visited some places and made my choice. Never looked at the Trojans but I did visit UCLA. I chose another and was very happy as a teammate went with me. I did become good friends with a USC player after he went to the NFL, we had mutual friends, good guy. He’s since retired and doing good things in his community, nothing like you.
    One last thing, you and the other haters are meaningless trash. Talk is all you will ever have, nothing else.

  • Your racially charged message is what the people are trying to rid the system away from. You sterotype Black’s to justify your hatred towards people that hasn’t done you any harm. If their was some statistical truth to your comments my question is why aren’t you trying to uplift these savages which is how you describe us? If your job is to serve and protect? We know you can’t answer this question because people like you are believers of lies and hate people because of the color of their skin
    God isn’t sleeping which is why the truth is surfacing and your lies the people in the majority aren’t believing anymore. So my question is, do decievers have a place in this world? Maybe a Concrete cell block serves as the best place for these kinds of people that murder, rob, and steal while hiding behind the badge? I’m sure you can believe that truth.

  • Commenter “Fife” is a racist mama’s boy who whines & snitches to Celeste ALL the time when he feels ignored.
    No mystery there.

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