Yolo County Justice System Trying to Soften Image?

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courthouse.jpgOn October 21, the Woodland Daily Democrat ran a story entitled “Alternative to Prison Offers a Second Chance.”  It was a story that chronicled the Yolo County Drug Court, which offers non-violent drug offenders treatment rather than jail time.  According to the article, Yolo county has one of the most rigorous programs in the state, even granting eligibility to people who commit crimes to feed a drug addiction such as multiple DUIs, grand theft auto, petty theft and drug possession.

A day later, by chance, the Davis Enterprise also ran a story on drug court entitled “A Second Chance: Drug Court Offers Alternative to Prison.”  It was different story, written by Lauren Keene, which chronicled a 44 year old alcoholic.

While both of these stories was very different in focus, it has to be an amazing coincidence that both newspapers covered Yolo County Drug Court on successive days.

It would also be an amazing coincidence that they have done so following a period of sustained criticism against the District Attorney’s Office and the Yolo County Criminal Justice for being too harsh, for sentencing people unnecessarily, to too long a sentences.

Earlier this week, we saw a protest in Sacramento of people complaining about the 90 percent conviction rate that District Attorney Jeff Reisig brags about.  We have seen lawsuits against the District Attorney’s office, calls for independent investigations.

So perhaps there was the sense that there needed to be a softening of the usual hardline image of Yolo County.

The Daily Democrat wrote:

“Drug Court Coordinator Florence Gainor gave the graduates and other like them a second chance. Gainor said she determines eligibility by separating the people who commit crimes to feed a drug addiction, from the criminals who also use drugs.

The program has operated in Yolo County since 1999, and is funded by grants from the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.

Yolo county’s Drug Court is unique in that program participants don’t necessarily face drug charges, but have committed crimes dictated by drug abuse.

Consequently, Yolo also has one of the most rigorous programs in the state.

The program is a benefit to the entire community because it effectively rehabilitates criminals, eases the burden on taxpayers, and supports local rehabilitation centers, according Gainor. Had Drug Court not been an option, the seven graduates collective 23 years of prison sentences would have cost taxpayers over $1 million.”

The Davis Enterprise wrote:

“Drug court coordinator Florence Gainor – the ‘whip’ behind the program, McAdam said – said the seven graduates faced a combined total of 23 years in state prison.

With the cost of housing an inmate estimated at $49,000 per year, drug court in this instance saved taxpayers well over $1 million, Gainor said.

Rarely is a visit to court a cause for celebration. But on Tuesday, McAdam’s courtroom was filled with joy, pride and laughter as members of the audience – some of them alumni of the drug court program – congratulated the graduates and wished them luck on the journeys ahead of them.”

Just the kind of stories that are needed for an institution badly in need of an image overhaul.  Of course a cynic might point out that both articles cite just seven graduates of the program.  We are not presented with any kind of statistical analysis to put those seven into context.  We do not know how many go into the program, how many graduate, what period of time that seven represents, how many people drop out of the program, how many go back to prison later, what percentage of people who would go to prison end up going into drug court, and we could go on and on.

I do not wish to disparage the program or the accomplishments of the individuals that graduate from it because I believe we need more alternatives to prison.  But these are both nice touchy-feely stories without much context or real substance that we can evaluate.  I am suspicious about the timing of the stories, coming within a day of each other and I am also suspicious that they come at a time when the justice system is under fire.  I am happy to learn more about the programs, but I’ll also note that I never received any kind of press release or contact for these kinds of stories which suggests that these reporters were handpicked because they knew they would get a puff-piece out of them and that the Vanguard would give them no such favors.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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17 thoughts on “Yolo County Justice System Trying to Soften Image?”

  1. Alphonso

    This is all about Federal grant money. It would be nice to think someone was actually trying to do something positive for the community. The fact is there was a federal grant offered in 2009 for this program and the Yolo DA wanted some of the action. The program pays for itself along with some existing overhead.

  2. Ryan Kelly

    Geez, David.

    This program has been going on for years. There are graduations from time to time. There has even been a reunion of past graduates. All of these were covered by the local papers.

    You are incorrect that this graduation was only highlighted to give the Court a softer image. Both newspapers covered it, because there was a press release and both newspapers thought that it would make a good story to cover people who have successfully achieved a year of sobriety and have secured employment and more, after sometimes years of failure.

    Be careful of becoming too cynical, David. Sometimes good news IS good news.

  3. David M. Greenwald

    Ryan: And why was there a press release? To highlight the program and give the county positive PR by insuring that they get an uncritical puff piece by the local papers.

  4. Hi there!

    Regardless of pre-campaign campaign jingos, drug diversion programs are something that the Yolo DA’s office has remained hostile to. Always looking for ways to exclude rather than ways to include. However, maybe the office has received a complaint from Sacramento informing them that they better begin complying with the spirit of the law rather than hiding behind the letter in order to advance an agenda of unyielding and severe punishment regardless of the severity of the crime. Either way, alternatives to prison is not a policy that office has embraced in any sort of verifiable way.

  5. 3doorsdown

    The justice system in Yolo County has functioned in the same manner for years. The exposure of it’s biased practices is long over due. And I agree the timing of the news articles published appears to have a an underlying agenda. However, the criticism expressed by some of your readers of the drug court programs available in Yolo County are unwarranted.

    As a 14 year (graduate) living a clean and sober life style, I take issue with the negative views. Redirecting the life of an addicted person is complex. The rate of recidivism is disappointingly sizable but the success of even one person affects our entire community. Yolo County is fortunate to have this option available. Any statistics desired can be obtained from the California State Department of Alcohol and Drug. I’m sure you can compare the statistics of Yolo County versus other counties in the state. You may also want to view those of California against other states as well.

  6. 3doorsdown

    The justice system in Yolo County has functioned in the same manner for years. The exposure of it’s biased practices is long over due. And I agree the timing of the news articles published appears to have a an underlying agenda. However, the criticism expressed by some of your readers of the drug court programs available in Yolo County are unwarranted.

    As a 14 year (graduate) living a clean and sober life style, I take issue with the negative views. Redirecting the life of an addicted person is complex. The rate of recidivism is disappointingly sizable but the success of even one person affects our entire community. Yolo County is fortunate to have this option available. Any statistics desired can be obtained from the California State Department of Alcohol and Drug. I’m sure you can compare the statistics of Yolo County versus other counties in the state. You may also want to view those of California against other states as well.

  7. 3doorsdown

    The justice system in Yolo County has functioned in the same manner for years. The exposure of it’s biased practices is long over due. And I agree the timing of the news articles published appears to have a an underlying agenda. However, the criticism expressed by some of your readers of the drug court programs available in Yolo County are unwarranted.

    As a 14 year (graduate) living a clean and sober life style, I take issue with the negative views. Redirecting the life of an addicted person is complex. The rate of recidivism is disappointingly sizable but the success of even one person affects our entire community. Yolo County is fortunate to have this option available. Any statistics desired can be obtained from the California State Department of Alcohol and Drug. I’m sure you can compare the statistics of Yolo County versus other counties in the state. You may also want to view those of California against other states as well.

  8. 3doorsdown

    The justice system in Yolo County has functioned in the same manner for years. The exposure of it’s biased practices is long over due. And I agree the timing of the news articles published appears to have a an underlying agenda. However, the criticism expressed by some of your readers of the drug court programs available in Yolo County are unwarranted.

    As a 14 year (graduate) living a clean and sober life style, I take issue with the negative views. Redirecting the life of an addicted person is complex. The rate of recidivism is disappointingly sizable but the success of even one person affects our entire community. Yolo County is fortunate to have this option available. Any statistics desired can be obtained from the California State Department of Alcohol and Drug. I’m sure you can compare the statistics of Yolo County versus other counties in the state. You may also want to view those of California against other states as well.

  9. Anon

    Wait a minute, DPD. On this same blog you have pointedly asked for drug programs so that drug offenders can be rehabilitated rather than incarcerated. You’ve complained that the state sends too many people to jail for minor drug offenses. Yet here is a perfect example of what you supposedly want, but you are complaining bc of the “timing” of articles about these programs?

    You may be correct that the timing of these articles was not coincidental in occurring at the same time the DA’s Office is under fire. However, your disingenuous use of criticism here shows your own bias. For whatever reason, whether it is bc the county received grant money for this program or whatever, the program obviously has laudable goals you agree with. What is the point of “trashing” articles about it, just bc they may be run at a “convenient time” to cover the reputation of the DA. It doesn’t make these programs any less laudable.

  10. David M. Greenwald

    As I said in the article:

    “I do not wish to disparage the program or the accomplishments of the individuals that graduate from it because I believe we need more alternatives to prison.”

    I agree with 3doorsdown, the intent here was not to disparage the program, but rather the articles and the obvious attempt to manufacture good PR for an institution under fire.

    I very much support the idea of alternatives to sentencing, I question the commitment of the DA and Yolo County justice system to that value and there is where my criticism lies.

    Again I ask, how many people go through these programs?

  11. anon

    Just what policies do you want revised? Clarity might be helpful here.

    I read your article as critical of the DA’s alleged 90% conviction rate. That might leave a misimpression of how conviction rates work. In all jurisdictions, prosecutors have far more cases filed than they can take to trial. Think of the number of arrests vs. number of trials. I think in Yolo, it’s about 100+ criminal trials a year which is a very high number for a smaller court. But there thousands of felonies charged each year. In all jurisdictions, prosecutors settle the vast majority of cases at an early stage, leaving only a few for trial. Those are tried because the attorneys can’t agree on resolution, or there really is a dispute about the facts, or the defendant is facing a third strike and long prison sentence if he or she pleads to the charges. My point is that the DA really influences the conviction rate by deciding which cases to try. If a prosecutor’s office has less than a 90% conviction rate, there’s something wrong – its selection of cases to take to trial is way out of line with the practices in other jurisdictions nationwide. You can get the statistics from the state DOJ or the Administrative Office of the Courts. They publish a report annually. But please don’t conclude that a 90% conviction rate is somehow atypical,or reflects a biased approach.

  12. Sacramento

    I keep reading case by case, articles one after the other about the problems Yolo Justice system. There is enough there for any one to wonder. There is a clear need for an independent federal investigation of the system. Hopefully we will find that we do not have any problems at all and everything is good and all this is unfounded hysteria???? (I pray)

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