I have been surprised for how long local Yolo County officials have stayed out of what has become a national discussion, practiced at each local level about criminal justice reform.
We have still not heard from Yolo DA Jeff Reisig during the crisis other than his warning about price gouging and fraud. He has stayed out of the debate over issues like jail release and zero bail.
Over the last week, we have covered a number of articles from Sacramento where the DA, Anne Marie Schubert, has opposed zero bail and jail release. Meanwhile, in Yolo County we know that the DA’s office was arguing to deny to release the defendant accused of stealing a COVID-19 sample, but Judge David Rosenberg ruled Mr. Moore to be released on his own recognizance but to be given a GPS monitor and ordered to stay 100 feet away from Sutter Davis Hospital.
That shows us that Yolo County is not necessarily adhering to the Judicial Council on bail and certainly not going to where a lot of the progressive prosecutors have gone with aggressive jail and prison release programs.
Now we have an op-ed by Sheriff Tom Lopez, who argues that the “bail order is potentially dangerous.”
Responding to the statewide Judicial Council order on zero bail, Sheriff Lopez writes, “Unfortunately, the efforts of this office and the efforts of our public safety partners throughout Yolo County are not being considered as decisions at the state level are made and imposed upon us.”
He does note that the sheriff’s office has reduced the jail population to 250 below the maximum capacity, which he argues “allows for inmates to be individually housed and guarantees appropriate social distancing.”
He adds, “Our efforts had been successful and struck a balance between caring for the welfare of inmates while maintaining public safety. It is our hope this rule does not negatively impact any citizen of Yolo County or our state.”
What is really interesting is that the sheriff’s op-ed never actually addresses the issue of bail. He clearly does not like the state’s imposition but never articulates why he doesn’t like agree with it.
Sheriff Lopez never addresses the problems that bail poses, the inequity of the system itself.
He also fails to note that the Judicial Council outlines 13 exceptions that allow money bail to be set according to local bail schedules for people arrested for serious or violent felonies, domestic violence, DUIs, and several other offenses.
In fact, the only people for whom bail is eliminated is for misdemeanor and low-level felony offenses.
Does Sheriff Lopez believe these individuals represent a threat to public safety?
Here’s what he said: “Effective Monday, April 13, the California Judicial Council instituted a new emergency order mandating $0 bail for most misdemeanors as well as nonviolent felonies, while also mandating the release of other, potentially dangerous, pretrial inmates. We are concerned about the consequences that the blanket release of inmates will have here in Yolo County.”
Who are the potentially dangerous pretrial inmates that they are releasing in the pool of misdemeanor and non-violent low-level felonies?
We don’t know because he never explains.
The big problem with bail—in the entire system and the reason why more and more progressive prosecutors and potentially the state of California are phasing it out—is that it doesn’t actually protect public safety.
As SF Public Defender Manu Raju recently put it, “It is always unjust that some people are held in jail simply because they cannot afford to purchase their freedom. Reducing the number of people held pretrial solely because they can’t afford bail will allow court resources to be used more effectively and ensure California continues to flatten the curve.”
As Yolo County’s public defender put it: “Two people are charged with the exact same crime. One is rich. One is poor. One pays money in order to go home. The other stays in jail. That’s our current bail system and one of the causes of mass incarceration.”
Sheriff Lopez wants to defend their policies, that makes sense. But he never explains why zero bail for misdemeanors and low-level felonies is so bad.
As DA Candidate Eli Savit from Michigan pointed out in a panel discussion this week, there are a lot of people in custody who are not threats to public safety.
He said that “you shouldn’t empty out all of the prisons, 100 percent, there are people in prison who pose an imminent threat to people in society.” But, he said, “there are a lot of people in prison who don’t pose a threat.”
He noted that people in jail for parole and probation violations—“that’s not a public safety threat right now.”
Unfortunately, Sheriff Lopez doesn’t agree. But we don’t know why.
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