District attorneys wield enormous power in the criminal justice system. They decide whether to bring charges, what charges to bring, and whether or not a juvenile is to be tried as an adult.
In recent years there has been a rise of progressive DAs, but in California’s Orange and Riverside Counties, outmoded DA policies and practices have contributed to skyrocketing incarceration rates, vast racial disparities in charging, and the criminalization of mental illness and poverty.
Today, the ACLU Foundations of Northern and Southern California release comprehensive reports on Orange County DA Todd Spitzer and Riverside County DA Michael Hestrin. Both of these officials oversee offices that spend immense amounts of time and resources prosecuting low-level offenses.
The volume makes their prosecution balance sheets look good, but these type of offenses pose little or no threat to community safety and may actually worsen long-term outcomes. “The policy changes recommended within these reports prioritize community-focused alternatives to incarceration,” said Summer Lacey , criminal justice director at the ACLU SoCal.
“They have been proven to reduce the likelihood that individuals will have future contact with the criminal legal system. The recommendations represent necessary steps that DA Spitzer and DA Hestrin must take to redress glaring inequities against people of color.”
The reports were derived from vast amounts of data, but getting the information was problematic in some cases. The Orange County DA’s office only agreed to turn over charging data from when Spitzer’s predecessor, Tony Rackauckas, was in office. However, available evidence […]