Sunday Commentary: Parole Opposition Shows Once Again Reisig Just Not a Reformer

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Since his narrow victory last year in the DA’s race, Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig keeps trying to make the claim that he is a criminal justice reformer.  Indeed, some have bought into the rhetoric – but time and time again, we see why he is just not what he says.

When NYU Law Professor Rachel Barkow spoke at the Vanguard’s event at the law school, she argued that criminal justice reform is barely scratching the surface of what needs to happen.  In her book, Prisoners of Politics, she noted that “the Sentencing Project recently documented, at our current pace of reform and decarceration, it will take 75 years to cut the prison population in half.”

What we have to do, she argued, is not simply go after non-violent drug offenses, which account for a relatively small percentage of those in prison, but actually change the way we charge and handle all cases.

Jeff Reisig, whether it has been on reversing cannabis convictions (as required by the state) or a recent op-ed on transparency, has tried to seize the mantle of reform.

But at the end of the day, he forgets to acknowledge that, for one thing, he opposed reform efforts like Prop. 64 (one of less than a handful of DA’s to oppose that) and his own policies are anti-reform policies.

A good example – parole.

The case of Tim Wilson is a prime example.  The state Board of Parole granted Mr. Wilson, who was incarcerated in 1994 at the age of 23, to a 15 to life sentence.  Yolo County opposed it.

According to the DA’s press release, “Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven appeared at the hearing on behalf of the Yolo County District’s Attorney’s Office. “

Mr. Raven argued against Wilson’s release, stating, “If Mr. Wilson’s trauma is his excuse for the murder, then clearly he should resolve this trauma before being allowed back out.  He has made progress but has more work to do.”

The parole board disagreed.

The Yolo County Public Defender’s Office assisted Mr. Wilson.  Contrary to the DA’s claims, they found “Tim Wilson is low risk to reoffend and does not pose a danger to society.”

Mr. Wilson committed a horrible crime.  But he was also 23 years old at the time of that crime, and he is now in his late 40s.  Moreover, he has had a great record in prison.

Public Defender Tracie Olson and Paralegal Sara Johnson write in an op-ed on the Vanguard: “It is no easy task to gain a recommendation of release from the Board of Parole Hearings. The purpose of a parole hearing is to determine if or when an inmate can be returned to society.”

They add, “By law and in practice, the Board’s priority is to safeguard the public.  If the Board believes an inmate’s release will jeopardize public safety, the Board does not recommend release.”

But the case for Mr. Wilson was strong.  They write that “the Board of Parole Hearings heard evidence that an expert administered a psychological evaluation that focused on dangerousness and found Mr. Wilson to be in the lowest category of risk to the community.”

They continue: “The Board of Parole Hearings additionally heard evidence that Mr. Wilson had zero prison disciplinary write-ups for the last decade-and-a-half, obtained his GED, obtained vocational training in multiple subjects, committed to sobriety resulting in 21 years clean and sober, attended numerous self-improvement programs to include anger management, substance use, and recovery classes, attended a victim impact course in an effort to further process the pain he caused, committed to a continued Christian faith, and successfully held numerous jobs while in prison.”

Further, “the Board of Parole Hearings heard evidence of Mr. Wilson’s positive mentoring of other inmates and his sister outside of prison.  Mr. Wilson’s work supervisors at CDCR praised him for his leadership qualities, competency, consistency, willingness to help others, sincere remorse, insight, integrity, and principle.”

None of his accomplishments are in dispute.

Aside from the personal characteristics that suggest that Mr. Wilson is not the same person as he was in 1994, there is also research.  At the age of 50, the research indicates that someone of Mr. Wilson’s age is extremely unlikely to commit any further crime of violence.

Unfortunately, Mr. Reisig and the family remain opposed and are not giving up.

An NBC News article indicates that the family is now calling on Governor Newsom to reverse the parole.

“When he murdered John, he had what I called dead eyes,” said Carol O’Friel, who now lives in San Bruno.

It was a horrible crime, but he was sentenced to 15 years to life and served 25 of them.  His record in prison suggests he has earned a shot to make amends and a second opportunity.

Here is the thing that struck me – I have never seen a case where a person up for parole, granted or opposed by the parole board, had the support of the DA’s office in Yolo County.

When I inquired I was told that he has opposed all but one of the recent parole cases.  That one was kind of a no-brainer and, even there, he did not support the parole, he simply did not contest it.

—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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7 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Parole Opposition Shows Once Again Reisig Just Not a Reformer”

  1. Bill Marshall

    A point I hesitated to make with previous article…

    Tracie/Sara took a whole paragraph to point out the victims “predilections”… apparently to ‘exonerate’ Mr Wilson… uncool… Mr Wilson has likely spent too much time incarcerated… and is very likely worthy of parole, but he should continue to receive mandatory counselling to ensure his ‘conversion’ is complete… Mr O’Friel, on the other hand had a death sentence imposed for his “attempted” ‘crime’… he will never be paroled, at least in this plane of life.  He was never available as a witness to Mr Wilson’s crime.  To confirm or deny the events on the day of his death.

    Tracie and Sara have provided exactly the raison d’etre, in their characterization of O’Friel, that increases the ‘imperative’ for the family to fight this tooth and nail, to preserve some dignity, if nothing else.  Vengeance/pay-back/protecting memory, whatever.

    I believe Mr Wilson’s parole should be upheld… and the Tracie/Sara comments (as to victim) be sanctioned.  At least to the extent they think more than twice about dragging up things about a long dead “victim” to “make their case”… called decency… their points would have been just as valid if they had left that gratuitous info out…

    IMNSHO… I believe the authors should issue an apology to the family of Mr O’Friel, and to the public. That would be a decent thing to do.

     

    1. Craig Ross

      Do you even know what you’re talking about?  They should be sanctioned?  They don’t even sanction attorneys for most serious misconduct, let alone some fake stuff.

  2. Bill Marshall

    Back to this article… extremely rare when tigers can change their stripes, or leopards their spots.

    Think the fable of the scorpion and the frog… their nature…

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Actually the recidivism rate for murderers is far lower than less serious offenses and it declines markedly as people age. Those two factors make this a much safer risk than your comment implies. That’s ignoring the specifics of this particular individual.

    1. Robert Canning

      I worked for the prison system for 17+ years as a psychologist, wrote psychological evaluations for inmates going before the parole board (the last one was about 14 years ago), and talked to lots of inmates before and after their hearings. There are a lot of counties where the DA’s ALWAYS opposed parole (I can’t name any but it was common knowledge in the system).

      Mr. Reisig seems little different from other DA’s in this respect and thus I don’t think that because he opposed this parole recommendation by the commissioners that that adds much to the opinion that he is or is not a progressive DA.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        Robert:

        I have to disagree here.

        You argue: “Mr. Reisig seems little different from other DA’s”

        That may be true, but also the point I’m making.  He is little different from other DA’s – which is why he is not a reformer.  On the other hand, someone like Larry Krasner is very different from other DA’s.

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