Yolo County is offering “a series of informational public planning sessions throughout the county” in April to strengthen its planning efforts in response to AB 109 and Prop. 47. While it will be Yolo County Chief Probation Officer Brent Cardall who will lead the sessions, along with other members of the Yolo County “Criminal Justice Cabinet,” we are already concerned that fear and political agendas will overrule more careful analysis.
Last week, Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig told the Board of Supervisors that, over the last several years, “what we’ve seen is increasing property and violent crime in Yolo County.” While he blamed this on AB 109 and expressed concerns about Prop. 47, he acknowledged the trend in Yolo County “isn’t in line with statewide averages.”
He noted that “all of it coincides with the implementation of AB 109 and then more recently with Prop. 47 where we’ve already started to see in the short amount of time that it’s been in place, a big spike in property crime in Yolo County.”
He called Prop. 47 “basically a decriminalization in crimes that used to result in a state prison sentence.”
Mr. Reisig said, “We can debate the merits of the policy, but it’s moot because it’s law. We’re going to be struggling to find creative ways to deal with the fall out.”
Mr. Reisig acknowledged that they have not collected data but he believes that, five months into this, “what we are seeing is revolving door on these low level arrests.”
Mr. Reisig continued, “Currently the standard disposition of the court if someone is arrested on drug charges is they’re not given jail time at all. They’re simply referred out to probation.”
This led presiding Judge Kathleen White and Judge David Rosenberg to write in response, “This is not accurate.”
The judges noted that the voters have “have expressed a strong preference for treatment rather than incarceration for low-level drug offenders. They expressed this preference in 2000, when they enacted Proposition 36, which mandates community-based drug treatment in lieu of jail or prison for many such offenders.”
They expressed it again with the passage of Prop. 47 by a 59-41 statewide margin. Yolo County voters, in fact, passed it by a slightly wider 61-39 margin.
The judges write, “Proponents of Prop. 47 argued that the solution to addiction-fueled crime was to focus on treatment, rather than incarceration. Clearly, the voters agreed.”
They note that, as judges, “[w]e do not write the laws.” They continued, “To implement these laws, and to attempt to break the cycle of addiction-conviction-incarceration-release-new conviction, the judges of Yolo County have developed new sentencing guidelines. These guidelines use the specter of jail to motivate drug offenders to complete treatment, and require all eligible offenders to enroll in a Proposition 36 drug program.”
They are given a choice – jail or mandatory probation-supervised treatment. They write, “If they choose jail, the court will order 240 days in the county jail. Facing significant jail time, the vast majority of defendants choose to take the probation option.”
In fact, the judges note that, prior to Prop. 47, misdemeanor probation was not supervised. This has changed.
“The Yolo County Probation Department, in response to Prop. 47, has developed a structured, supervised probation program monitoring misdemeanor Prop. 47 defendants,” they write. “Under Prop. 47 probation, defendants receive and complete a drug treatment program. They are placed on formal probation supervised by a county probation officer for three years, and they must submit to searches for drugs and random drug testing. They must complete a probation-approved drug treatment program.”
But beyond the inaccurate portrayal of the probation issue, there is not definitive evidence that Yolo County’s uptick in crime is due to AB 109 and now Prop. 47.
One letter writer notes that Jeff Reisig’s office “processed 7,784 criminal cases in 2014, a massive increase of 30 percent over 2013. In the absence of another compelling argument, the uptick is likely a product of AB 109, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 to reduce the state prison population by putting more of the burden of incarceration on local authorities.”
The writer acknowledges that the state has not seen that kind of jump in crime since 2011. He writes, “This reality merits further discussion as we decide how to approach certain lower-level offenses, especially ones relating to drug possession. That said, I don’t live in the rest of California. I live in Yolo County.”
As we noted last week, even the AB 109 data is inconclusive.
A January 2014 report, analyzing 2012 data, showed no statewide pattern between AB 109 Realignment and crime. A study from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found “no conclusive trends demonstrating a causal relationship between Realignment and crime, even among counties in close geographic proximity.”
They added, “There may be non-Realignment factors that inform an increase in certain crimes.”
This report offers a cautionary tale for Mr. Reisig’s analysis: “The lack of a clear pattern—in fact, it is hard to imagine a pattern that is more ambivalent and complicated—indicates the perils of drawing hard conclusions about a single, albeit important, public policy change such as Realignment based on short-term crime trends.”
If Realignment brought more crime, they conclude, “counties with higher proportions of realigned individuals would have experienced larger increases in crime in 2012, after Realignment’s implementation. Moreover, this hypothesis would mean that systems with greater local management, as opposed to reliance on the state system, would have greater increases in crime.”
Instead, they write, “The data do not support either conclusion; in fact, self-reliant counties seemed to have somewhat more favorable crime trends. In addition, violent crime trends do not seem to be affected by level of Realignment or by degree of local versus state management.”
As a strong proponent of both realignment and Prop 47, it seemed logical to believe that there would be a sorting out period. My belief is that there will be released individuals who will reoffend.
One thing to remember, however, is that everyone released under AB 109 and Prop. 47 was going to be released anyway at some point. So any uptick in crime should be temporary, as those released reoffend and go back in the system.
The bottom line is that we have an opportunity to do things differently. Jeff Reisig last week trumpeted the success of his Neighborhood Court Program. We support those efforts, but believe they need to expand them to the Prop. 47 class of offenses as a way of reducing recidivism and holding more defendants accountable for their actions.
—David M. Greenwald reporting