Gascón launches juvenile diversion program when he claims to go too far

Minors charged with a wide range of crimes, including robbery, sexual violence and arson, will be eligible for a new diversion program launched by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón who spares offenders from criminal charges and forces them to redeem themselves by other means.

Gascón disclosed details of how his enhanced and restorative youth diversion program works in an internal memo to prosecutors last week.

While teens charged with many serious violent crimes – including murder, rape, and any offense in which a gun was used or someone was seriously injured – would be excluded from the program, those who face charges of burglary, vehicle theft, assault or theft that did not result in serious injury, arson or sexual violence may be selected, according to the memo, a copy of which has been reviewed by The Times.

Under the initiative, an accused juvenile can be placed in the diversion program before criminal charges are laid only if the victim of the crime agrees to participate and the accused takes responsibility for the crime.

If the victim consents, an outside service provider will take over the case and develop “a personalized program designed to address the underlying issues that contribute to criminal behavior, such as mental health needs or substance use.” Gascón said in a statement.

Offenders are expected to be required to meet their victims in person at “restorative justice conferences,” officials said.

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

Gascón first announced the program at a press conference in November, but provided few details on how it would work.

The note, which was sent on Friday and which spelled out the types of crimes that can be diverted, sparked an immediate reaction from critics inside and outside the prosecutor’s office who believe the reforms progressives pushed by Gascón go too far.

Dist from Sacramento. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert, a frequent critic of Gascón and candidate for state attorney general next year, denounced the new policy, calling it “Gascón’s” last reckless order. “

“No charges for 17 year olds who commit sexual assault on children, rape of drug addict, domestic violence, hammer blows, robbery of 80 year old man and torture of animals ” she wrote on Twitter on Friday. “What a disgrace.”

Alex Bastian, a special advisor to Gascón, said Schubert was wrong to suggest that everyone charged with each crime listed in the memo would be put into the diversion program. Each case, Bastian stressed, will be considered individually.

These checks make the program different from the all-or-nothing approach Gascón has taken to juvenile cases over the past year, in which he has refused to try adult teenagers – even those accused of murder. macabre.

Deputy Chief Dist. Atty. Sharon Woo has reversed warnings from some opponents of the program that large numbers of juveniles accused of serious crimes will be allowed to avoid being tried and punished in court. The three service providers who handle cases referred by the district attorney’s office only have the resources to handle a dozen cases per month, Woo said.

Critics inside Gascón’s office, such as Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonathan Hatami, disputed what he said was the imprecision of the note. He noted, for example, that it did not explicitly prohibit offenders accused of crimes committed with a knife or blunt instrument. Hatami also warned that minors involved in recent armed robberies in high-end retail stores could be granted diversion under the policy.

Woo said it was unlikely that a minor who had colluded “with several people to steal high-end items only for fencing purposes” would be hijacked by the program. While the policy does not explicitly prohibit crimes in which minors possess or use a weapon other than a firearm, Woo also said she doubts prosecutors will return such cases given the limited number of slots. available for the program.

Others expressed concern about any diversion model that would require the victim of a sexual crime to meet with their alleged abuser.

Jane Manning, Director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project and a former sex crimes prosecutor in New York City, warned that accused of juvenile sexual violence often victimize people of the same age group, meaning Gascón’s policy could help one teenager, but harm another. .

“It is important to find alternatives to incarceration for young offenders in many types of cases. But restorative justice is extremely problematic in sexual offense cases, ”she said. “If you are dealing with young offenders, you are often dealing with young victims as well. And the idea that you’re going to put the victim back in the same room as the abuser will be the opposite of trauma in many cases.

Woo said the memo incorrectly suggested that cases of criminal sexual violence would be eligible for diversion. However, cases of misdemeanor sexual violence remain eligible, she said.

Jerod Gunsberg, a lawyer who often represents minors, said critics read too much into the memo and ignore the fact that many diversion-capable crimes describe a wide range of behavior.

A teenager who steals a candy bar and pushes a security guard while fleeing the scene, for example, could be charged with theft, Gunsberg said.

“People who only behave like a teenager, when I don’t tolerate it, take someone’s bike and there is a hustle and bustle about it?” A theft where someone is trying to remove their backpack? ” he said. “If there is enough force there, a prosecutor can file a robbery. “

Wiley C. Thompson