Several criminal justice leaders in Los Angeles believe that even though crime totals in the area are down, chances of reforming the justice system any time soon are iffy. “We have a very dysfunctional system in L.A.,” California Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero said yesterday at a conference sponsored by the Institute for Justice and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Romero, who represents a Los Angeles district, has chaired a committee overseeing the state corrections system. Alluding to the 1988 Dukakis-George H.W. Bush presidential campaign, she said “the legacy of Willie Horton is alive and well” in the state legislature, meaning that lawmakers still will vote against any proposal that may seem to make them vulnerable to “soft on crime” charges.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca spoke out against a plan by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to release low-level convicts from prison as a money-saving move. Baca said the state corrections department does not know which of the inmates might be gang members. “We are going to have more crime” if the governor’s plan is approved, he said. Los Angeles civil rights lawyer Connie Rice agreed that the justice system is broken, noting that it relies on making large numbers of arrests. She called for a “public health strategy” that focuses on “violence and conditions that produce children who cannot succeed.” A more optimistic note was struck by Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who emphasized that the Los Angeles area has reported the lowest homicide totals in 50 years. He argued that “the system is more accurate than ever” in avoiding mistaken convictions. The officials spoke as USC concluded a three-day conference on “A 21st Century Criminal Justice System For Los Angeles: A Look at the Present, A Model for the Future and a Blueprint for Media Coverage.”