California Progressive DAs Clash Over Crime Policies in Panel Discussion

By Jamie Joseph
Jamie Joseph
Jamie Joseph
Jamie is a California-based reporter covering issues in Los Angeles and state policies for The Epoch Times. In her free time, she enjoys reading nonfiction and thrillers, going to the beach, studying Christian theology, and writing poetry. You can always find Jamie writing breaking news with a cup of tea in hand.
February 2, 2023Updated: February 7, 2023

Two of California’s top district attorneys recently bumped heads over whether tough-on-crime policies reduce crime during a panel discussion of mostly progressive prosecutors at the University of San Francisco.

During the discussion, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón railed against the current prison system.

“We know that concrete boxes do not cure mental health, just like they don’t cure cancer,” Gascón said during the nearly two-hour panel on Jan. 27. “But most of our jails, including mine … is probably the largest mental health institution in this country today.”

Gascón said such is the case even after he has tried, since his 2020 election, to “take us into a different direction.”

Gascón, who was San Francisco’s District Attorney from 2011 to 2019, is a strong advocate for rehabilitation over incarceration and said few people who are imprisoned come out any different than when they were arrested.

Epoch Times Photo
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles on Dec. 8, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

He argued that incarceration shouldn’t be the only solution for social issues and urged prosecutors to take a closer look at the interventions they’re currently using and ask if they’re actually making a difference.

He also highlighted data that show few who go to prison are changed by their experience, meaning that harsher punishments don’t necessarily result in a decrease in crime.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins—who worked under Gascón in 2013 when he was that city’s DA and later resigned from the position under Chesa Boudin, joining the now successful effort to recall him—had a different point of view.

“I think it makes a huge difference when you’ve handled cases where you’ve had to prosecute child molesters,” Jenkins said. “When you’ve had to hold the hands of victims of hate crimes who have been physically brutalized, when you’ve had to hold up a mother who crumbles in your arms because her son has been murdered—it makes a big difference.”

Jenkins was appointed to replace Boudin by San Francisco Mayor London Breed in 2022 after he was recalled and, a few months later, in November 2022, won election to the position.

Jenkins has since come under heavy criticism for reverting to tougher-on-crime policies, with her most recent controversy involving her decision to prosecute children as adults, rolling back Boudin’s measure that prohibited it.

During the panel, she went on to say that victims—who are mostly “black and brown”—must be included in the dialogue regarding criminal justice reform as well as the incarcerated, who she said were also mostly people of color.

“I’ve had people who I have sent to prison come back, give me a hug, and say: ‘Thank you. I needed to understand that what I was doing is not okay,’” Jenkins said.

The two were joined by two additional progressive district attorneys, Diana Becton from Contra Costa County and Pamela Price from Alameda County.

Also on hand was Steve Wagstaffe, a more conservative district attorney from San Mateo County.

Epoch Times Photo
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin looks on during a press conference in San Francisco on May 10, 2022. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Gascón was elected in December 2020 on a promise to reform the criminal justice system and end tough-on-crime initiatives.

Since his tenure, he has implemented an array of progressive measures, including ending the death penalty, reducing sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, establishing restorative justice programs, holding accountable law enforcement officers who violate the law, no longer charging minors as adults, eliminating many sentencing enhancements including firearms, and removing cash bail for misdemeanors or nonviolent felony crimes.

He also created a unit in his office to investigate police misconduct and is a strong proponent of certain police reforms, including body cameras, de-escalation training, and the creation of a civilian oversight board.

Jenkins is a career prosecutor of more than 15 years, including serving as an assistant DA in San Francisco from 2014 to 2021, where she handled a variety of cases including homicide, hate crimes, and sexual assault.