Sunday Commentary: Facts Not Fear and Assumptions Need to Guide Crime Discussion

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Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig told the County Board of Supervisors last week that they are seeing a revolving door of crime in Yolo County as the result of AB 109 and Prop 47
Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig told the County Board of Supervisors last week that they are seeing a revolving door of crime in Yolo County as the result of AB 109 and Prop. 47

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

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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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12 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Facts Not Fear and Assumptions Need to Guide Crime Discussion”

  1. zaqzaq

    What evidence based practices have been introduced/created by our county’s Health and Human Services, specifically Alcohol, Drugs and Mental Health (ADMH) and our Probation Department regarding drug and alcohol treatment for Yolo county residents since the implementation of AB 109 and Prop 47?  How have we gotten better with both treatment options and effectiveness?  With the passage of AB 109 and Prop 47 the “stick” or threat of incarceration is gone(no incarceration in a state prison).  How do we as a community respond to substance abuse?  It is not just the homeless guy passed out on the sidewalk.  It is the high school student using heroin.  David is a big proponent of restorative justice.  From my limited research in the area one aspect is the role of the community (city, county or state) in addressing the causes of crime.  If substance use/abuse (alcohol, marijuana, meth, heroin , … .) leads to criminal behavior then what is the “community” doing to reduce the use of these substances?  What additional educational/treatment options have been created with the money that we as a society has saved by reducing incarceration (some may call it get out of jail cards) have been implemented.  For example, if I catch my 16 year old drunk, high on marijuana or heroin, what community resources are available for me to plug my child into to address these issues?  The same goes for an 18 year old, a 30 year old or 50 year old member of our community.  There is a huge cost savings to the state by reducing our prison population by 30,000.  There is also a huge incarceration savings from Prop 47.  The bigger question is what is being done with this windfall to address substance abuse.  Maybe in April there will be some answers in these public planning sessions.  I wonder if ADMH even has a seat at the table at these discussions?

  2. Robert Canning

    These are good questions, zaqzaq. I can assure you that ADMH and Probation are working together to help address some of these issues. The new director of ADMH, Karen Larsen, is actively working with Probation to get funding for new programs for mentally ill offenders through the Mentally Ill Offenders Crime Reduction Act (MIOCRA) grant program. I am not sure the proposals will address drug offenses/treatment but we can certainly find out. You can contact me directly at rdcanning@gmail and I’ll get the info.

    Regarding the savings included in Prop 47, I believe there is be a time-lag before those savings and the resultant funding for community programs is realized. I’m not sure of the projections, but with the reduction in inmate population on the state level, it will take 1-2 years (at least) for the funding to show up.

    Robert Canning

    Vice-Chair, Yolo Local Mental Health Board

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think by the judges going to a more probation model on the drug offenses, that will mitigate some of the savings.  it’s still the right move, but reisig is really not utilizing this opportunity to expand the neighborhood court program and he really should.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        I don’t see why we’re so reluctant to bring back work crews / chain gangs. Let them work 8 hours a day, and then go back to their private residence, which provides some structure, some job training, and some incentive (stick). My guess is that progressives like Davis Progressive would be against it.

        1. Davis Progressive

          well, i don’t see that it resolves any of the problems.  i don’t see how it provide job training, don’t see how it treats substance abuse, don’t see how it creates real responsibility.  so yeah, i’m against it.  it seems like a punitive measure without a true purpose.  not to mention, no way could you institute that for a misdemeanor.

          1. Don Shor

            I’ve seen county work crews, dressed in orange picking up trash along the road. Seems like there might be some security risks.

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          I knew I’d guess right. Let’s see, showing up at 8:30 AM isn’t a better idea than lounging around the pad, smoking refer, watching Jerry Springer? Proper work habits like going to bed early, not being high, going and getting to work are all learned skills, following direction, “playing well with others”, etc. So whether it was graffiti removal, property maintenance, garbage removal, painting, etc., there is some level of skill involved. These include socialization skills and responsibility.

          Part of substance abuse is boredom and the old saying, “idle hands are the work of the devil”. When you get home tired from an honest days work, traveling 5 or 100 miles to score some drugs is less appealing for some.

          Give them the choice, this community service / job training, or harsher methods (stick). This is a problem with liberalism, few consequences… the Mommy State.

        3. Davis Progressive

          i guess anything to avoid actually putting real resources into job training and substance abuse programs.

          “Part of substance abuse is boredom”

          you really don’t know what you’re talking about.  most of substance abuse is depression, chemical imbalances, and chemical dependency.

          1. Don Shor

            most of substance abuse is depression, chemical imbalances, and chemical dependency.

            I think a lot of cognitive behaviorists would disagree with you. But we don’t know your credentials on this issue. In any event, there’s certainly a strong element of choice involved at every level. And for youth, boredom can certainly be a factor.

          1. Don Shor

            That link doesn’t lend any credence to your statement that “most of substance abuse is depression, chemical imbalances, and chemical dependency.” Nor would any of the dozen or so other links I could post. Your statement is probably not factual. There is a strong element of choice involved in substance abuse, and it is the choice aspect that we deal with at the legal level. Physicians can deal with the other aspects, if appropriate, but getting people to seek or accept treatment may require legal sanctions.

        4. TrueBlueDevil

          Don: possible security risks: I’ve wondered this myself, but since the Left touts that we have so many “non violent” drug offenders, I figure there might be a win-win-win here somewhere. Not just give give give, take take take.

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