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.
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