Los Angeles D.A. scraps parole unit, leaving crime victims in the dark

Bryan Chan/County of Los Angeles via AP

The effort to recall Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon hasn’t officially succeeded in putting the issue before voters yet, but organizers have submitted more than enough signatures to qualify for this fall’s ballot, and once those signatures have been officially verified next month its expected that the recall campaign will be moving forward with an eye towards ousting the prosecutor this November.

You’d think Gascon might be tempted to moderate his soft-on-crime policies in the meantime, but that’s definitely not the case. In fact, Gascon is now drawing well-deserved criticism for his latest move: getting rid of the unit in his office that alerts crime victims and their next of kin when offenders are up for a parole hearing.

Gascon’s office confirmed to Fox News that it was scrapping the Parole Unit, also known as the “Lifer Unit,” by the end of the year.

The office said its attorneys are “needed in line operations to prosecute cases as we are greatly understaffed” — and even claimed that notifying victims can be “triggering” to them, the Fox report said.

“While a victim has a right to be notified, they also have a right NOT to be contacted,” Gascon’s office told Fox in a statement.

“Lawyers in the parole unit have been using Victim Service Representatives, paralegals, and Bureau of Investigation resources to contact victims and their next of kin who have not requested to be notified of parole hearings.”

That’s right. Gascon’s actually claiming that he’s doing this for the benefit of crime victims.

I’m sure that being informed that your attacker is up for parole is indeed “triggering” for some victims of crime. But my guess is that far more victims will be righteously ticked off about being kept in the dark about the possibility of their attacker’s release from prison, especially if someone is granted parole without the victim or their family being given the opportunity to speak out in opposition.

Some of the prosecutors in Gascon’s office are so bothered by what’s going on that they’re now speaking out.

Gascon continually puts forth ‘services’ as if he is protecting [victims] ‘rights.’ He is not,” said Deputy District Attorney Julianne Walker, who described herself as a “DDA in the soon-to-be disbanded Lifer Unit.”

“He is abandoning [victims’] constitutional rights and thinks a Band-Aid of some type of service like counseling will make up for his refusal to protect their rights.”

Walker said that the vast majority” of cases the unit deals with “are victims of gun violence,” insisting that “it is very rare that people tell us that they do not want to be informed.”

The “traumatized … victims and their families” typically assume “there would never be a parole hearing and the offender would die in prison.

“But changes in the law, done without victims, families and really the entire public’s knowledge have allowed for early parole dates,” she wrote.

Not only is Gascon taking steps that would prevent many crime victims from being informed of these parole hearings, as LA Magazine reports, the new policy comes after the D.A. stopped sending representatives from his own office to parole hearings to argue against early release.

George Gascon first said that D.D.A.s wouldn’t be allowed to go to parole hearings—but that victim advocates could assist victims,” longtime prosecutor Jon Hatami, who focuses on child abuse cases, said in a statement. “His administration then froze D.D.As’ access to state prison records so victims are not prepared for what they might hear during the parole hearing. Now, he will not even assist with notifying victims that a defendant is up for parole.”

Hatami, a leader of the effort to recall Gascón and who is suing his boss for libel, defamation, retaliation, and the creation of a hostile work environment, was not the only current L.A. prosecutor to take aim at the as-yet-unannounced policy change.

On Twitter, County Deputy D.A. Ryan Erlich remarked: “[Gascon] has done a bunch of terrible things since Dec. 2020. But turning his back on the families of victims of violent crime is beyond callous. If he had EVER tried a homicide, he would know that we have a moral duty to, at least, support those folks at parole hearings.”

California’s gun control laws already make it difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their right to armed self-defense against violent attackers, and now the chief prosecutor in the state’s most populous county is working to ensure that those who are victimized don’t stand in the way of their attacker walking out of prison before their time is served. Even by L.A. standards this is outrageous, and if this news had come out while the organizers of Gascon’s recall were still collecting signatures they probably could have added tens of thousands of additional names in support of their campaign. Hopefully L.A. residents will have the chance to send Gascon packing this fall, but I hope that if that happens his replacement isn’t just as nutty as he is. Given the state of California politics, that may be too much to ask.