America’s criminal justice system is in the throes of a revolution.
From Chicago to Philadelphia and Boston to San Francisco — and now Los Angeles — voters have elected progressive prosecutors committed to undo the “tough-on-crime” strategies that disproportionately penalize the poor and people of color.
They believe the current justice system is more concerned with punishment than rehabilitation, fostering in some courthouses a win-at-all-costs attitude among prosecutors who count their career successes by their number of convictions. The alternative, critics say, is a criminal-friendly system that preys on law-abiding citizens.
Both sides in this revolution concede change is needed, but they differ on the extent. One lightning rod in the national debate is newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, who with 10 million constituents has the largest district of any in the nation.
Love him or hate him, many say Cuban-born Gascon, 67, is one to watch in this tug-of-war over American jurisprudence.
“There are many who are looking at Los Angeles as a bellwether,” said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a national network of reform-minded elected prosecutors. “It’s not just the largest (territory), but it’s embracing the newest thinking. Above and beyond (Gascon’s) vision, he has tremendous fortitude with a compass that’s unwavering, and he has a tremendously good heart.”
Krinsky estimates about 70 progressive prosecutors have been elected in the United States. Gascon recognizes that he casts a broad shadow over them.
“It weighs heavily on me,” Gascon said in a recent interview with the Southern California News Group. “While I understand it’s a team effort (nationally), I recognize there’s a lot on my shoulders.”