The voters of Yolo County since 2012 have very consistently and in most cases overwhelmingly voted for criminal justice reform. In 2012, the voters voted 56-44 to repeal the death penalty and overwhelmingly (74-26) to reform Three Strikes. In 2014, the voters voted 61-39 to reduce drug and petty theft to misdemeanor charges, and last year, the voters voted 68-32 for early release, 60-39 for marijuana legalization and 54-46 to once again repeal the death penalty.
The remarkable thing is that Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig not only opposed but vocally and actively opposed all six of those criminal justice reform measures – which put him well out of step with county voters.
The message has been set by the voters that they want criminal justice reform in Yolo County and yet the policies of the DA have not changed.
Yolo County is a county that ranks in the middle in terms of its crime rate, but it’s near the top in per capita incarceration rate. One of the main reasons is that DA Reisig’s office has maintain an aggressive charging policy that is out of line with much of the rest of California.
In addition to his opposition to the ballot propositions, Mr. Reisig has been an opponent of AB 109, creating California’s realignment policies that have moved inmates from state prison to local control.
However, despite being out of line with voter inclinations in Yolo County, DA Reisig has doubled down his opposition, this week spending county resources to put out a press release complaining about early release programs.
Here is this week’s release complaining about the release of “so-called ‘non-violent second-strikers'”:
The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office regularly publishes a list of convicted criminals who have been granted early release from prison by the State of California.
Since the beginning of the program, 41 inmates with committing felony offenses from Yolo County have been released early, despite the opposition of the Yolo County District Attorney. Of those 41 already released, nine have been rearrested for crimes such as: violation of post release community supervision, burglary, drug possession, and drug sales.
The history of the early release program is as follows: Beginning in 2015, in an effort to reduce prison overcrowding, a number of measures were put into place by the State of California which have resulted in early prison releases, including early parole consideration for individuals characterized as “non-violent second-strikers.” To qualify, inmates must not currently be serving a sentence for a crime which is legally categorized as a “violent felony” and must not be required to register as sex offenders.
Once a “non-violent second-striker” has served only 50 percent of their sentence, or if they are within 12 months of having served 50 percent of their actual sentence, they are eligible for parole consideration under the program. A prison official conducts an administrative review of each eligible prisoner. No oral testimony from victims or witnesses is taken during the paper-review process and no actual hearing is conducted. Instead, the prison official merely notifies district attorneys and any victims that they may submit a written statement for consideration. If the prison official determines that the inmate would not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety based on criteria included in their criminal history, prison behavior, rehabilitation efforts, and written statements, they are released.
Mr. Reisig releases the names of three of them.
At the request of members of the public, the Yolo County District Attorney has recently sought to expand the information being provided on its website by obtaining and publishing the latest prison “mug-shot” of the inmates who are being released early. Unfortunately, officials at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation have, thus far, refused to provide the requested photos for this purpose.
According to Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig: “We remain dedicated to analyzing each case and will oppose the release of inmates when appropriate. Most citizens have no idea that serious criminals are being released from prison early under these new state programs. Many of these individuals have very violent criminal histories and continue to pose a danger to our communities. Our website link is designed to inform the public and improve the transparency of the state’s early release decisions.”
There are several points here that should be considered.
First, while Mr. Reisig claims that, of 41 inmates, nine have been re-arrested, but we have little in the way to evaluate those arrests. For instance, violation of post release community supervision is hardly something that should produce alarms. Part of the reason we have post release supervision is to monitor and make sure the releases are in compliance, and when they are not, they can be placed back in custody.
He suggests that is an example of the system failing – but it may well be the opposite – an example that the system works.
How many of those nine were re-arrested for technical violations and how many actually committed a new crime? He only lists three crimes – burglary, drug possession, and drug sales – none of them violent, one of them a misdemeanor. What if only two of the 41 committed a felony? We don’t know from his release. Even if a full nine are back in custody, that’s a 21 percent recidivism rate, falling below the 70 percent statewide figure.
Second, he names three of the releases with names, a description and a photo. What he does not provide is any sort of account as to why they were released. We have no basis for evaluating them, as did the board that was assigned with making the decision.
Mr. Reisig acts as judge, jury and executioner in this way by releasing names and photos of people who are now attempting to get their lives in order. What services has Mr. Reisig attempted to provide to make sure that these individuals succeed in their release as opposed to re-offending?
To us this seems a poor use of DA resources and an effort to undermine the intention of the voters who have pushed for new solutions to criminal justice problems by consistently and in most cases overwhelmingly supporting criminal justice reform – including early release – at the ballot box.
In recent years, the DA has attempted to act as a reformer, pushing for Neighborhood Courts and the Multicultural Community Council, when in point of fact he has opposed all attempts at criminal justice reform.
While the DA claims to be doing this at the request of members of the public, it would be noteworthy that the majority of the public in the last election backed early release.
Mr. Reisig bemoans the fact that the latest prison mug shots are not available from the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation), but we believe that such a release would be harmful to individuals attempting to get their lives back in order.
Can the DA commit to supporting voter-backed reform efforts while still remaining vigilant to protect the public from those who would take advantage of the system? This method hardly seems to be the way to do it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting