In a letter Wednesday to District Attorney George Gascon, Villanueva questioned why the prosecutors have been barred from attending the parole hearings and added his department would appear on behalf of victims' families to give them a "voice."
Villanueva said the sheriff's department has traditionally written letters expressing public safety concerns when a state prisoner is scheduled for a parole hearing.
LASD will attend parole hearings in the absence of Los Angeles County District Attorney prosecutors.— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) February 3, 2021
Victims must continue to have a voice! #VictimsMatterhttps://t.co/SEs9YOBi07 pic.twitter.com/xRKx97VkkR
"The purpose of this correspondence is to notify you, if prosecutors will no longer be allowed to attend parole hearings, the LASD will attend parole hearings in the absence of your prosecutors," the sheriff wrote. "At the request of family members, the LASD will do everything possible to give victims a voice at the table to address their concerns."
Villanueva noted that the sheriff's department will continue to "write letters in opposition" and attend parole hearings virtually or have investigators travel to in-person parole hearings when appropriate.
Shortly after he was sworn into office in December, Gascon issued a directive on so-called "lifer parole hearings" that indicated that the office's "default policy is that we will not attend parole hearings and will support in writing the grant of parole for a person who has already served their mandatory minimum period of incarceration, defined as their MEPD (Minimum Eligible Parole Date), YEPD (Youth Parole Eligible Date) or EPD (Elderly Parole Date)."
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The directive noted that "if the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) has determined in their Comprehensive Risk Assessment that a person represents a high' risk for recidivism, the DDA (deputy district attorney) may, in their letter, take a neutral position on the grant of parole."
The directive also noted that the crime for which someone is convicted is "of limited value in considering parole suitability years or decades later," that the value of a prosecutor's input in parole hearings is "also limited" and that "currently, sentences are being served that are much longer than the already lengthy mandatory minimum sentences imposed."
The office will continue to "meet its obligation to notify and advise victims under California law, and is committed to a process of healing and restorative justice for all victims," according to the directive, which was issued on Dec. 7.
The district attorney's office says the change is part of a larger series of reforms. Alex Bastian, a special advisor to Gascón, provided the following statement in response to the sheriff's letter:
"When heart-wrenching crimes occur, victims and their families are changed forever. That is why District Attorney Gascon has directed our office's victim advocates, who are trained to provide trauma-informed care, to support victims during parole hearings. They are available to attend any hearing where victims want them present. Sheriff's deputies, like prosecutors, do not have all the pertinent facts and evaluations at their disposal. The Parole Board does - and its sole purpose is to objectively determine whether someone is suitable for release."
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City News Service contributed to this report.