FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – December 16, 2020
Joanne Scheer: 925-285-1504; firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniel Trautfield: 805-291-3139; email@example.com
The DROP LWOP Coalition enthusiastically welcomes the sweeping criminal legal policy changes that L.A.’s new District Attorney, George Gascón, is initiating. In particular we are encouraged by Gascón’s directive #20-08 that stops L.A. prosecutors from filing special circumstances allegations which would result in a Life Without Parole/LWOP sentence. This significant step is a victory for the DROP LWOP Coalition and our work to end all Life Without Parole sentencing in California. It is also attributable to the broad coalition of progressive forces, anchored by organizations such as Black Lives Matter and members of Justice L.A., which moved Gascón to embrace a strong reform platform that resonated with voters and ensured his election. Black-led movements––whose demands for radical changes in policing and incarceration policies gained powerful momentum in 2020––are building people power and delivering unprecedented change.
Over the past few years, the DROP LWOP coalition and its member organizations have put the Life Without Parole sentence on the political map for criminal legal reform. We have condemned LWOP sentences as cruel, arbitrary and racist. We have exposed the shocking statistics that 68% of people sentenced to LWOP in California are Black and Latinx and 62% of people sentenced in CA were 25 years or younger at the time of their offense. We have insisted that LWOP is not a humane alternative to the death penalty but is in fact a living death sentence. We have pointed out that charging special circumstances, which automatically triggers LWOP or the death sentence, is completely at the District Attorney’s discretion and therefore can be ended by a District Attorney.
By directing his office not to file special circumstances allegations, Gascón is effectively dropping the LWOP charge for Los Angeles county going forward. He is setting a powerful example for other District Attorneys around the state and the country. At the same time he has pledged to review for possible resentencing thousands of cases of currently incarcerated people whose cases originated in L.A. county, including those with LWOP sentences. This resentencing initiative for L.A. county is a step towards correcting one of the harshest most racist sentencing practices in the state. This process will take time, but we are committed to ensuring that resentencing will be executed to its fullest extent.
Gascón’s attempt to meet our demands is a big victory. It is a step towards our goal of eliminating the inhumane LWOP sentence all together. Moving forward, we will be insisting that other D.A.’s in the state follow Gascón’s policy example. We will work with the state legislature to end the special circumstances laws that require LWOP or death penalty sentences. And we will continue to demand that Governor Newsom use his executive authority to grant commutations for all 5,200 people with an LWOP sentence in California.
We extend our appreciation to D.A. Gascón and the movement that has insisted on the need for such changes for years!