In an abrupt policy about-face amid an aggressive recall effort, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has lifted an order that prohibited prosecutors from seeking cash bail for defendants charged with non-violent crimes.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Sharon Woo said in a Thursday, May 13, memo that the District Attorney’s Office remains committed to the rapid development of a well-funded, robust, pretrial services program that “balances the rights of the accused while protecting public safety.”
“Despite the significant efforts by community justice partners, a comprehensive pre-trial services program has not been fully realized,” the memo states. “After listening to the community, victims, and members of this office, I have decided to allow limited exceptions to the pre-trial release policy while such a program is finalized.”
As a result, prosecutors can request cash bail for defendants charged with misdemeanors, non-serious felonies, or non-violent offenses who have committed crimes while awaiting trial and those who pose an exceptional risk to public safety.
“The District Attorney remains firmly committed to the core principles that the voters of Los Angeles embraced, including the goals of eliminating cash bail and maximizing pretrial release within the bounds of public safety,” Gascon’s office said in an email Friday. “Throughout the past 18 months, we have identified some gaps in our existing system of pretrial supervision that require slight adjustments to the manner in which we pursue those goals.”
The policy change marks an abrupt reversal by Gascon, who immediately after taking office on Dec. 7, 2020, issued a directive eliminating cash bail for all non-violent defendants.
“By minimizing the utilization of cash bail, reducing unnecessary pretrial detention, seeking the least restrictive conditions of release possible, and utilizing community-based support programs and interventions, the long-term safety of all Los Angeles County residents can be improved and the system will be made more fair and just,” Gascon wrote in the directive.
The negative consequences of cash bail have fallen unequally upon low-income individuals and minorities in Los Angeles County, he added.
Eric Siddall, vice president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, described Gascon’s zero-bail policy as an “unmitigated failure of leadership.”
“It took 18 months of smash-and-grab robberies and revolving-door reoffenders for George Gascón to admit what it took Angelenos about 18 minutes to know in their guts — his bail policy didn’t work and it made all of us unsafe,” he said in an email Friday. “His stubborn refusal to course-correct was a failure of competency.
“Thanks to him, many arrestees were put back on the streets. Some went on to reoffend, even kill. Gascón knew it was a failure, but he refused to acknowledge it or face the numbers. Now he’s worried about another set of numbers: polls and signatures in support of his recall. This change isn’t about keeping us safe. It’s about keeping his job.”
Organizers of the recall effort have collected 400,000 of the needed 566,857 signatures required by July 6 to put the measure on the ballot.