This week, the Yolo County DA’s Office put out a release on a man in Woodland, released due to the emergency provisions, but who allegedly committed auto theft after being released.
The man found himself back in custody on multiple felony charges this week, including allegations that he stole two more cars, using one to lead police on a high-speed pursuit.
“Jacob James was released as a result of California Judicial Council’s Statewide Emergency ‘0’ Bail Schedule, which was adopted on April 6, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” a DA press release stated.
The ruling by the judicial council set bail at zero for most misdemeanor and lower-level felonies in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus in jails statewide by reducing the number of inmates.
The ruling has already generated pushback.
First, we covered Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert and her efforts to thwart the judicial council ruling by increasing bail for some defendants, preventing their early release even as they appeared to qualify for zero bail.
According to a source cited in Cres Vellucci’s April 8 article, “the DA is searching for reasons – ‘public safety,’ for instance – to circumvent the State Judicial Council’s plan to reduce jail population.”
Yolo County Sheriff Tom Lopez also pushed back against the ruling in an op-ed in the Enterprise earlier this week.
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.”
Later in the week there was the story out of Riverside County down in Southern California, to the east of Los Angeles.
“It’s ridiculous and the people should be outraged,” said Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco.
He told a Palm Springs NBC Affiliate: “If you’re afraid or you don’t have the money to bail out of jail, don’t commit a crime.”
He told the TV station that “this move was purely political because those left to implement it were left out of the conversation.”
The judicial council responded, “A judge still has discretion to deny or raise bail if they find good cause the defendant is a threat to public safety and conditions can be placed on a defendant’s release.”
Any time you release people from custody, there is of course a risk of re-offending. Then again, lost on a lot of people is the fact that almost all of the people who are being released right now would have been released already or in the relatively near future.
Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson told us, “If a large number of people released from jails and prisons re-offend, then we as a community have created a system that can be described as nothing less than a complete failure.”
She added, “While nothing works every time or on every person, sociologists and criminologists who have studied recidivism recommend the same effective strategies. Success is a criminal justice system that uses these strategies.”
The other risk of course is that in waiting for a person’s time for release, they could get COVID and die.
That’s apparently what happened in Michigan.
As ABC reports, “After 44 years in prison, man dies of the coronavirus 24 days before release: William Garrison was in prison for 44 years for a killing committed during a home invasion when he was 16. The 60-year-old was finally preparing for release from prison in Michigan when he contracted the novel coronavirus. He died 24 days before his scheduled release date.”
Realistically, was Garrison more a of threat if they released him a month or two sooner?
Janos Marton, who is running for DA in Manhattan, told us, “There will be instances where people released break the law, parole, or conditions like house arrest. In this moment we must distinguish between people who harm or seek to commit harm to others, and other types of offenses we can deal with in the community.”
He also pointed out, “If people are being released at the foot of the Rikers Island bridge with a metrocard and the clothes on their back, we shouldn’t be shocked if not everyone has a great outcome. Getting people on their feet has to be part of the equation, for everyone’s benefit.”
The key then is to find support for those released, not simply give them their $200 gate money and ask them to report to parole on Monday morning.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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