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Jonathan Kraut | Why Gascon Is a Threat to Public Safety

Jonathan Kraut

While there is great chaos and emotional uncertainty regarding a president who still insists on not leaving office, a greater and possibly more immediate threat to our safety and well-being is quickly manifesting at our doorstep.

Incoming Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, within hours of being sworn in on Dec. 8, announced he intends to remove many enhancements typically applied to criminal prosecution and “favors catch and release” for low-level serial criminals. 

Enhancements add prison time to a criminal sentence. Seeking the death penalty and adding time for gang affiliations, “three strikes,” hate crimes, and for using a gun during the commission of a crime are all enhancements. Gascon also announced he wishes to cease charging those in their mid-teens as adults even when perpetrating the most heinous of criminal acts.

These enhancements are applied for “extraordinary circumstances.” Gascon argues many of these events are not extraordinary and should not be used. In addition, Gascon has directed the county prosecutor’s office to cease charging numerous misdemeanors related to “poverty, homelessness, or addiction.”

Gascon, regarding enhancements, is quoted as saying, “They are outdated, incoherent and applied unfairly… Plus, no compelling evidence exists that they improve public safety.”

Gascon’s understanding is actually correct — about 70% of those who are incarcerated are going to be arrested for new crimes within a year or two from release. The homeless and addicted often commit the same crimes just days after release. While about one-third of those convicted remediate and get the message, the conduct of the other two-thirds, for which enhancements are designed, maintain an unchanged mindset upon release. 

Studies tell us habitual criminals, those with gang and organized crime affiliations, addiction issues and mental illness, are not set straight as a result of imprisonment, regardless of the length of a prison term. 

Having analyzed and designed programs to combat recidivism since the mid 1990s, I have come to understand there are three main truths regarding remediating criminal conduct. 

First, the threat of additional punishment to that one-third who stay clean after incarceration is an incentive for them to remediate. 

Second, those without the sufficient mental acuity or whom experience a severe addiction component may be incurable, even with intervention, and need to be housed apart from society. 

Finally, habitual criminals usually embrace a selfish mindset, an embedded socialized belief system, or whose lifestyle depend on criminal habits. These mindsets rarely are reformed, even with very long sentences, if ever. 

Gascon says enhancements don’t work for many — and he is right. Habitual criminals, the mentally ill and addicts have patterns of conduct that may never change over time. 

Gascon reasons that the purpose of incarceration is to remedy behavior. I disagree. I believe the purpose of locking up these folks is purely to prevent further victimization of the public.

As part of a research project, a number of a years ago I visited Welikada Prison in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to study their methods of addressing recidivism. Housing about 1,700 inmates, nearly all these inmates in Welikada were sentenced to life for their first serious crime. 

In Sri Lanka, there essentially is no recidivism because first-time serious offenders are generally incarcerated for life. The only way to be set free is to demonstrate a transformed mindset from a selfish view to one of selfless dedication to others. This remediation process is aided by years of meditation and policies that prison officials treat inmates with dignity and respect at all times.

The result is that about 2% of the incarcerated population eventually transforms. Many, even upon being set free, choose to remain at the prison to mentor and support the transformation of others. The Welikada warden told me that to his knowledge no released inmate from his prison had been charged with a subsequent crime in over 50 years. 

This severe method of lifetime incarceration, also used in India, protects the public and assumes few will actually ever deserve freedom. The message is also clear to all that one serious act of misconduct may lead to a lifetime of imprisonment.

Gascon is directing his prosecutors to minimize jail time because, for most, jail is not a cure to misconduct. Keeping society safe by keeping these folks locked up for the long term is beneficial for the same reason — that for most, jail is not a cure to misconduct.

Gascon is acting as social justice reformer and social worker, not a D.A. His clientele are those he strives to protect rather than to prosecute. 

Join me in supporting Gascon’s recall from office. 

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations agency, is the CEO of a private security firm, is the COO of an acting conservatory, a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.     

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