A new word entered the California political lexicon the other day when two of the five elected supervisors running America’s largest county decided they could greatly reduce crime by depopulating Los Angeles County’s many jails and other penal facilities.
The new word: decarceration. This is the process of supposedly fighting crime by letting people out of jails and prisons, a favorite of the far left, the same folks who, for several years, have advocated defunding police everywhere.
That has not happened in California. Apparently, decarceration and depopulation of Los Angeles County jails won’t, either.
Most police, prosecutors and politicians of all stripes don’t think it’s possible to reduce crime by letting convicted or suspected criminals go free.
The public clearly doesn’t, either. That’s why in 2020, voters by a 56%-44% margin rejected a no-cash-bail law passed earlier by the state Legislature, dominated by ultra-liberal Democrats who believe it’s unfair to force suspects to await trial in custody if they lack the funds to make bail.
Polls showed most voters — and non-voting Californians, too — feared allowing most of the arrested to roam at large without bail would spur new crimes from the same old suspects.
So it took law enforcement and others by surprise when Los Angeles County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Lindsay Horvath sought to declare a “humanitarian crisis” in jails and order several county offices to create or expand programs keeping people out of jail, some even after they’ve been convicted. This plan would have left out major felons, most of whom are locked up by the state, not counties.
Their plan blindsided police, prosecutors and many local officials, whose cities would have received the released prisoners had decarceration taken place.
They quickly protested, and the Solis-Horvath proposal evaporated from the agenda for the county board’s next meeting. Two other supervisors, including board chair Janice Hahn, immediately announced they would not vote for their colleagues’ plan, so it was essentially tabled, possibly to arise again after it undergoes major alteration.
The opposition was led by the county’s 45-member police chiefs association and a group of “contract cities” that lack their own police forces and buy law enforcement services from the county sheriff. Also in opposition was the local Association of Deputy District Attorneys, which has been embroiled in several disputes with ultra-liberal District Attorney George Gascon, accused by many of his deputies of favoring criminals over their victims.
Decarceration is a proposal so far unique to Los Angeles County, where courts and law enforcement long have been credibly accused of overt racism, with proven offenses including cases of planted evidence and stopping motorists without obvious cause except their race. The idea is also fueled by faith that programs can be designed to prevent almost all recidivism by the released.
The dead-for-now motion for decarceration proposed by rookie Supervisor Horvath and veteran officeholder Solis — a former congresswoman and the Secretary of Labor under ex-President Barack Obama — was first reported by the Southern California News Group.
Solis and Horvath declared a commitment “to redress historical wrongs deeply rooted in systemic racism and prejudice and (to) reverse status quo responses to poverty, mental health and medical needs and substance use dependencies.”
The problem is that these problems have all long resisted easy or facile solutions, and a sudden move to free many convicts and suspects might expose thousands of unsuspecting citizens to unprecedented levels of crime.
The police chiefs group noted that, “We do not stand against reform and we have been active…in these efforts. However, we are concerned with the rushed motion…”
They and the line prosecutors complained the proposal was being hustled through with little analysis and no input from law enforcement or crime victims.
It also ran counter to the spirit of the 2020 vote to cancel the law calling for no cash bail.
But while Californians can reverse state laws they believe are unwise, as they did in 2020, there is no recourse locally other than voting entrenched supervisors out, with changes then wrought by their successors.
All of this means decarceration may not quite be dead and could, in fact, arise in other counties with liberal board majorities.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].