Minutes before Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on Wednesday, Los Angeles County’s new controversial progressive district attorney expressed solidarity with the new administration on social media.
“Today, the justice reform movement gains an ally in [the] White House,” tweeted L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón. “Biden’s promise to confront mass incarceration fills me with hope. It’s past time to reform our bail system, decriminalize marijuana, abolish the death penalty & so much more.”
Today, the justice reform movement gains an ally in White House.
Biden’s promise to confront mass incarceration fills me with hope. It's past time to reform our bail system, decriminalize marijuana, abolish the death penalty & so so much more. #InaugurationDay
— George Gascón (@GeorgeGascon) January 20, 2021
Gascón, who took over as L.A. County’s top prosecutor in December, issued a set of special directives that has sparked a revolt from local law enforcement groups and several deputy district attorneys within his office.
Earlier this month, Gascón said the “Biden-Harris administration” would “have the mandate they need to meaningfully reform our criminal justice system” after Democrats won the Senate runoff elections in Georgia. Gascón said that the people Biden has chosen to lead the Department of Justice would “work to do the tough but critical work of restoring trust between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve,” and “hold police departments accountable for abuses of power.”
However, several progressive leaders and activist groups are apprehensive after reflecting on Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ records on criminal justice issues. Both had previously supported tough-on-crime policies that have been blamed for contributing to the mass incarceration of black people. During the presidential campaign, Biden said he made a mistake by authoring and supporting President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill that put more cops in black neighborhoods and incentivized states to construct more prisons. Meanwhile, Harris vowed to correct racially biased policies within the legal system, despite serving 27 years as a prosecutor enforcing harsh sentencing laws.
The Biden administration has promised to “deliver criminal justice reform” as part of its agenda to advance racial equity, which it has categorized among its “immediate priorities.”
Still, The Washington Post recently reported that “Biden has avoided speaking in detail about criminal justice reform” since winning the election. The outlet reported that while on the campaign trail, “Biden’s message was at times unclear.”
More details from the Post:
Although he supported ending capital punishment and mandatory minimums in federal sentencing, privately-run prison contracts and cash bail, he opposed other policies supported by some of his Democratic rivals, including allowing people to vote while incarcerated. And Biden said he favored letting states decide whether to adopt “red-flag” laws, which create a process for police or family members to obtain court orders temporarily restricting access to guns by people who pose a danger to themselves or others.
Biden has proposed ramping up Justice Department investigations of police departments accused of a “pattern or practice” of abuse, which can lead to court-ordered reform agreements called consent decrees. The Justice Department opened more than two dozen such investigations under the Obama administration, but quickly abandoned them under Trump.
A comprehensive criminal justice plan Biden released in July also called for ending the disparity in federal sentencing for crimes involving powder and crack cocaine, decriminalizing marijuana and shifting government resources from incarceration to crime prevention.
D.A. Gascón has said he is “excited” for President Biden and Vice President Harris to “fully” execute the bipartisan First Step Act, which he said was built on legislation written by Biden and enacted by the Obama administration. He did not acknowledge the bill had been signed into law by President Donald J. Trump in 2018. The policy instituted sweeping sentencing reforms for some drug offenses, expanded job training for federal inmates to reduce recidivism, and broadened early-release programs that reduced the prison population.