Juveniles can avoid jail for robbery, burglary, arson under new policies by DA Gascon

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón is expanding a program allowing juveniles to potentially avoid prosecution for a host of violent crimes, including robbery, burglary, arson, sexual battery and assault without the use of a firearm.

Details of the Restorative Enhanced Diversion for Youth program are outlined in an internal memo from Chief Deputy District Attorney Sharon L. Woo to Juvenile Division prosecutors and obtained by the Southern California News Group.

The so-called REDY program is an outgrowth of a pilot project unveiled by Gascón last month in conjunction with Centinela Youth Services and the Everychild Restorative Justice Center.

“This program will help repair the immense harm that criminal behavior inflicts on our community by giving crime victims the opportunity to actively participate in the restorative justice process,” Gascón said in a statement.

Before Gascón took office in December 2020, juveniles were placed in diversion programs based on the nature of their offenses, criminal history and overall attitude, Eric Siddall, vice president of the Los Angeles County Association of Deputy District Attorneys, said Monday.

“Suitability is no longer the standard under Gascón’s approach. Rather there’s a blanket approach regardless of the crime,” Siddall said. “With Gascón’s policy, you can sexually batter someone and you may never see the inside of a courtroom. You can rob someone and may never be held accountable.”

Juveniles charged with homicide, rape and forcible sexual assaults will be excluded from the diversion program, according to the memo. There will be about five to seven slots for youths per month in the diversion program. Victims will have to agree before a youth can participate.

The program does not guarantee charges will automatically be dropped against juveniles, said Jessica Ellis, executive director of Centinela Youth Services.

“Charges are only eliminated if the young person participates in restorative justice diversion and intervention services to the point that there has been meaningful accountability, rehabilitation and drastic reduction of further public safety threat,” Ellis said. “If there continues to be a threat or lack of accountability, charges can still be filed and the court process can continue as usual.”

While there are blanket recommendations for certain offenses, each case is individually assessed to determine whether diversion is appropriate, she added.

“What has changed is that what is deemed a potentially suitable charge for diversion has expanded, based on available data and research on what interventions are most effective for public safety,” Ellis said.

Studies have shown those who participate in Centinela Youth Services diversion programs are 50% to 70% less likely to be rearrested than those assigned to the justice system, according to Ellis.

Restorative justice also provides a significant savings to taxpayers, Ellis said

It costs Centinela Youth Services about $4,600 to serve a youth for six months compared to about $200,000 to prosecute and incarcerate them for the same period of time, she noted

“The Los Angeles County Probation Department currently has a budget of over $409 million for youth detention services,” Ellis added, describing the legal system for juveniles as bloated and ineffective. “There are only about 400 kids in lockup  What are we getting for this expenditure of over $1 million per youth?

Gascón’s decision to expand the diversion program falls in line with his social justice campaign promises that include discontinuing prosecuting juveniles as adults, as well as the elimination of cash bail, sentencing enhancements and the death penalty as a sentencing option.

Some prosecutors have said crime victims and their families feel abandoned by Gascón’s controversial directives amid a recent uptick in violent crime in the Los Angeles area.

“The whole state, including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Eric Garcetti, realize there is a crisis in terms of the crime surge that is going on,” Siddall said. “The only person who seems not to realize there is a crisis is District Attorney Gascón.”

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