11/08/2012 08:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jackie Lacey, Los Angeles County DA, Faces Tough Challenge In Realignment Program

Poised to become Los Angeles' first woman and first African-American chief prosecutor, District Attorney-elect Jackie Lacey vowed Wednesday to make neighborhoods safer despite ongoing changes in the criminal justice system.

"Right now, L.A. County has had the lowest crime rate in 60 years, but realignment presents a serious challenge for me as the future district attorney," Lacey said during a morning news conference.

"In the San Fernando Valley, we're seeing an increase in property crime and I'm worried about that," she said later.

"I remember a time when no one said, 'Let's have lunch in North Hollywood' (because of the crime rate) and I don't want to return to that," Lacey added.

"I want to make sure we effectively use all the tools in the system, such as alternative sentencing."

Alternative sentencing courts give women, veterans, drug offenders and the mentally ill a chance to avoid a jail sentence by agreeing to receive substance abuse treatment and other services intended to keep them from going back to a life of crime.

Lacey noted that 75 percent of those released from state prison commit new crimes within five years. In contrast, participants who undergo treatment by order of alternative sentencing courts have a 30 percent recidivism rate; in some cases, it's only 10 percent.

Putting people in treatment programs costs much less than keeping them in jail. Lacey said a treatment program for women has saved taxpayers $6million.

Lacey remains concerned about Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment plan, which forced the county to assume public safety responsibilities previously held by the state, including jailing and supervising the probation of certain criminals.

She vowed to watch closely for upticks in the crime rate.

Lacey, currently the second-in-command to retiring District Attorney Steve Cooley, garnered 1.1 million votes, or 55 percent, on Tuesday.

She defeated Alan Jackson, assistant head deputy of the major crimes division, who got about 911,000, or 45 percent of the votes.

In a statement released Wednesday, Jackson said Lacey ran a "dignified" campaign.

"While she and I have serious disagreements, we share a commitment to making Los Angeles County a safer place to live. I look forward to working with Jackie and her administration to take on the dangerous criminals who threaten our community, fight for the vulnerable and for victims of crime, and work to keep children out of crime in the first place," the statement said.

She will be sworn in Dec. 3 to lead the nation's largest local prosecutorial office, with almost 1,000 attorneys, 300 peace officers and 800 support staff, and an adopted budget of $328 million.

At her election night party in Union Station on Tuesday, she talked about making history.

"When I started out in the justice system, it was thought to be almost impossible for someone of color to be in charge of the largest local prosecutor's office in the nation," Lacey said.

"The fact that voters are choosing the most qualified candidate, and that she happens to be a woman, and happens to be African-American, affirms our democracy," she added.

Lacey grew up in the Crenshaw District, graduated from Dorsey High School, and said in her home, the teaching profession was revered. But after a teaching stint, Lacey said she took an introduction to law class, and she knew that law was in her future. She now lives in Granada Hills.

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