Following the social awakening that stemmed from the murder of George Floyd, Los Angeles County government strengthened their call for diversity within leadership and made it a priority.
Looking deeper into the county’s district attorney’s office, women of color are holding senior roles that influence the largest criminal justice system in the country. This is an important factor, due to the rate at that people of color are experiencing racially charged encounters in the current criminal justice system.
The L.A. District Attorney’s Office looks to combat the growing divide through its representation of Black women in this field by becoming the prime example of what inclusion looks like.
The D.A.’s staff represents the people that they serve. Tiffany Townend Blacknell, Alisa Blair, and Shelan Y. Joseph grew up in Los Angeles. Representing Inglewood, the San Fernando Valley, and Pasadena, each of them brings well-rounded insight and experience to the L.A. District Attorney’s Office.
Under the direction of District Attorney George Gascón, all members of the office work towards reaching new levels of equality that guide their movement as the largest criminal legal system in the country.
The focus has been constructed to seek out criminal justice reform. Townend Blacknell, Blair, Joseph serve as special advisors to Gascón.
“It has always been very important for me to assemble a diverse executive team which reflects the varied interests and concerns of the residents of Los Angeles County,” Gascón said.
“These incredible and capable women were carefully selected for their respective roles and have more than 60 years of experience in the criminal justice system combined.”
Blacknell lived in Inglewood in the late 1980s and 1990s, witnessing mental illness, addiction, gang violence, and police brutality throughout her neighborhood.
“For every person I love who has been arrested and imprisoned, there are an equal or greater number who have been harmed by violence,” Blacknell said.
The special advisor of the district attorney’s office continued, “My lived experience is emblematic of the fact that the people who cause harm and the victims of violence are almost always from the same community. Often, they are the same person.”
Blacknell is a USC graduate of Gould School of Law. She holds the position of special advisor to the D.A. and interim director of the Bureau of Victim Services.
Blair was raised in underserved communities by a stepfather who was frequently incarcerated. Currently, she is fully immersed in the county with the goal and making it a safer place for the future.
“I look at my son, who we adopted from the foster care system, and can’t help but think about foster care being the number one direct risk factor to future criminal system involvement. I think about changing the system to save him,” Blair said.
She continued, “I care about community healing and stopping harm before it starts. This system is set up to be reactionary. I believe in the path towards prevention and intervention. I believe in the vision of this administration.”
Blair, who attended USC Gould School of Law with Blacknell, specializes in juvenile justice, collaborative courts, and restorative justice. Her lens focuses on finding preventative measures against the school-to-prison criminal pipeline created through generations of institutional racism.
Joseph was raised in Pasadena. She is valued for her attention to criminal justice reform.
“Overwhelmingly, during my time working in the criminal justice system, I saw individuals enter the criminal justice system who were suffering from mental health issues, trauma and poverty.
“It is important to shift our lens to see these issues from a public health stance, rather than be pure, incarceral [viewpoint]. Gascón is committed to shifting that perspective,” said Joseph.
“The disproportionate impact of the death penalty on people of color in Los Angeles County is unprecedented. Systemic racism is evident by the decisions made for whom we seek the death penalty and inevitably, those who are sentenced to death. The disproportionate impact on people of color who are currently on death cannot be understated,” she said.
Joseph is a graduate of Loyola Law School. She joined the District Attorney’s Office to focus on “clemency and capital cases due to Gascón’s commitment to criminal justice reform, specifically his promise not to seek the death penalty.”
With women of color holding executive positions in the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, observers are hopeful that the outlook will improve for people of color impacted by the nation’s largest criminal justice system.