Commentary: Another Example of the Media Failing to Do Its Job


One of the continuing themes that has been ramped up in California and indeed across the country is the push back by traditional law and order DAs and sheriffs on COVID-based releases from jails and prisons.

Once again on Thursday, the Yolo County DA’s Office put out a press release indicating that “two more individuals previously released from custody as a result of the California Judicial Council’s Statewide Emergency ‘0’ Bail Schedule were charged with new crimes. The ‘0’ Bail Schedule became effective April 13, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

What they still have not done is note that these cases, which now number nine in total, represent less than five percent of the total that were released.

That prompted one of the deputy public defenders to respond to the DA’s tweet: “It is with a heavy heart that I must announce, the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office is at it again.”

There are of course legitimate issues to cover here.  But as we see a rash of uncritical coverage by the media, no one is asking or addressing those legitimate points.

The DA will point out the crimes committed by someone released without putting the issue into any sort of context.  No context is provided that the vast majority of people released are not committing new crimes.

You can legitimately raise the debate as to whether one bad crime overwhelms the many that have not committed the crime.  But then, I would respond, why should the many who behave upon release be put at risk by the few who don’t?

The bigger problem is that the media is largely reporting these press releases without context and without opposing voices being allowed to provide balance to the accounts.

One of the points I always make is that the media lacks the resources and reporters these days to adequately cover the courts. Well, perhaps I give some of the media too much credit.

Last week, we saw the media eat up the story out of the LA County Jail spun by the sheriff down there that inmates were attempting to infect themselves.

A bigger issue that I see is the media simply taking, as one critic pointed out, the word of law enforcement and sheriffs and DAs and using it as though it were an objective source. What the media needs to do is approach claims skeptically and look up the data in order to see if an anecdote is an outlier or part of a bigger pattern.

We have been hammering the Yolo DA for the last few weeks for distorting the picture on recidivism among jail releases.

Our Sunday article noted that the Yolo County DA had issued six press releases detailing seven cases where someone released on zero bail committed a new crime.

But, thanks to a presentation by Yolo County Sheriff Tom Lopez, we know that those as of Sunday represented all of the recidivism in Yolo County.

Thanks to the sheriff’s presentation before the board of supervisors, we now know that, as of that time, there were only four cases of recidivism in the county out of 117 people who were released.

In the worst-case scenario then, these three additional people committing new crimes, at worst, pushes it to seven out of 120. That is five percent. Given that the overall recidivism rate is somewhere between 50 and 70 percent, I would say that we are doing fairly well.

But none of the other media seems to understand the need to do this.

KCRA on Monday reported the story of the Yolo DA’s office filing multiple felonies against 23-year-old Kenneth Smit.

They report: “He was arrested for auto theft on May 14 and then released under following new guidelines set up by the Judicial Council of California. The guideline, which went into effect April 13, ends cash bail for most misdemeanor and lower-level felonies during the COVID-19 outbreak as a way to mitigate the spread of the virus in county jails.”

However, “the DA’s office said there are multiple examples of inmates being set free in a game of catch and release.”

“This is not a risk-free situation,” said Melinda Aiello, assistant chief deputy district attorney for Yolo County.

What they never report is what we reported—five percent.

CBS Sacramento on Monday, “A man arrested in connection to the theft of a U-Haul truck in Sutter County has been released from custody due to the order setting bail for most minor crimes at $0 over coronavirus concerns.”

The Chino Hills newspaper reports that San Bernardino DA Jason Anderson told the Chino Hills City Council Tuesday “that the emergency rule issued by the Judicial Council of California setting bail statewide at zero dollars was “sprung” upon his office with only a week to implement it.”

Give that paper and that DA credit. They acknowledge: “He said there have been 446 arrested under zero bail. Of that amount, 31 have been re-arrested.”

“That number is less than 10 percent of 446, but it’s 31 more than we would like who are having an impact on our law-abiding citizens,” he said.

Of course there is another story to tell here, and it’s not being told. We are not learning about the success stories. We are not discussing in these articles the risk of leaving people in custody in overcrowded conditions.

Instead, we hear that is 31 more than we would like—instead of we reduced the jail by x-amount which allowed more people to be safe.

The Chino Hills report did better but never interviewed anyone who was a proponent of the system. Not a public defender. Not a reformer. So, even with better stats, they did not give the public a rounded picture.

As I said, there are multiple sides to the story, but unfortunately the media continues to report DA and Sheriff press releases uncritically.  They are not doing their job here.

—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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  1. Keith Olsen

    What they still have not done is note that these cases, which now number nine in total, represent less than five percent of the total that were released.

    That’s just the ones that have been caught so far, how many have committed crimes and not been caught?  It’s only been one or two months and already the recidivism rate is at 5%.  What will it be in 3 months, 5 months, a year?

    Luckily Yolo doesn’t have any murders so far as a result of the releases.  Hopefully that holds but there have been killings in other parts of the country as a result of the Coronavirus releases.




    1. David Greenwald

      You have never answered what I consider the key question: why should the law abiding majority be punished for the actions of the law breaking minority?

      1. Keith Olsen

        When criminals are released you don’t know which 5, 10, 20, or 50% will be the ones who will commit more crimes on the public.  It’s Russian Roulette.

        1. Tia Will

          “It’s Russian Roulette”

          Let’s talk about a different game of Russian Roulette. Overcrowding in our jails is a known risk factor for the asymptomatic/presymptomatic/or symptomatic spread of COVIC-19. That risk applies not only to those incarcerated, but also to those who care for them, represent them, and guard them. And not only for these individuals but for their families and all they encounter in their private lives. So pick your weapon. In the current time there are two, you could take the risk of recidivism or you could pick the increased risk of COVID-19 spread. There are potential bullets in both chambers.



      2. Alan Miller

        why should the law abiding majority be punished for the actions of the law breaking minority?

        The traiagle area around the rail station has hit a critical mass of lawlessness.  As one person put it (who shall remain un-named to protect them):  “They (the so-called homeless I guess you could call them) have the run of the place”.  There have been threats to neighbors, open meth smoking, visible weapons, trespassing on neighbor property, assaults, fights, drug exchanging, massive dumping/hoarding, vandalism, theft, the attraction of huge numbers of individuals with clear mental health and/or sever intoxication behavior.

        I suspect this has to do with a combination of the prison releases, where individuals released who have nowhere to go find their ne’er-do-well buddies at ever-growing squat sites, along with our governor’s $0 bail order and basic decriminalization of nearly everything short of chopping someone’s head off with an ax, and combined with our city’s goodie-goodie policies that enable what some refer to as homeless but are actually vagrants, meth addicts, alcoholics, vandals, ne’er-do-wells, mentally ill, dumpers, hoarders, thieves, transients, and others taking advantage of a system meant to help those who need a helping hand and fueled by goodie-goodie-ism, creating city-wide cesspools.

        This is also going on north along the tracks, along the Lincoln Highway bike trail, in the ponds area adjacent to North F Street, under the Mace Blvd. overpass over the tracks, to name a few.

        So I ask you, DG:  why should the law abiding majority be punished for the actions of the law breaking minority?

        1. David Greenwald

          Just because you are not held pretrial doesn’t mean that you don’t face potential consequences later. Also several of the things you described are not necessarily covered under zero bail. I suspect this has less to do with prosecution and more to do with lack of enforcement.

      3. Keith Olsen

        I wonder how Davisites would react if they were told that 100 criminals were going to get released into Davis and 5 of them would be caught committing crimes within a month or two.  Would they be okay with that?

        1. Tia Will

          I would say that depends on how many fewer cases of COVID-19 occur in the community because of that action, what the specific crimes are, how much money is saved for the taxpayers by the de incarceration of the 100 and how much more in wages and taxes the 95 generate out of jail rather than being a burden in jail?

          The full context is necessary for rational decision making and rarely involves only one factor.

        2. Keith Olsen

          So Tia, if one of these criminals is COVID released and ended up next door to you it’s okay with you that there’s a 5% chance that they will continue to commit crimes within a month or two?  How many more will commit crimes after 3 months, after a year……?

          I mean they have to live next door to someone.  So someone is put at risk.

          1. David Greenwald

            Here’s another key question for you to dodge – if someone is arrested on a misdemeanor charge, how long would you expect them to remain in custody under normal conditions? Or are you advocating that they incarcerate everyone who commits a crime for the rest of their lives?

          1. David Greenwald

            But you do realize most of the people released are not going to do any real time anyway.

            Here’s a good example. A guy in Tampa committed a lower-level, nonviolent drug offense. Was released. Commits murder.

            He met the criteria for release
            We don’t know his criminal history
            The charges if he were in California would have been a misdemeanor and he then would have gone to drug court and would have been released normally within a few weeks anyway

            So a key question – did the release really change anything other than timing? You argue he should do his time – but what does that change? That’s why we have an absurdly high recidivism rate – putting people in custody doesn’t prevent them from committing new crimes.

            But we don’t know that. We also don’t know his overall history.

  2. Jeff Boone

    why should the law abiding majority be punished for the actions of the law breaking minority?

    Releasing criminals does punish the law abiding majority.  That is the point.  Why is that so hard to understand?

    1. David Greenwald

      Why is that so hard to understand? For one thing – almost every criminal in the system, except for those serving life sentences are released. It is only a matter of when. For another, most of the zero bail people are in on either misdemeanors or low level felonies. Why is there a particular risk of doing so – when almost all will be released anyway once their case is adjudicated? As Tia points out there is risk in keeping people in custody when they can be exposed and expose others to the virus. And finally, the system is largely working – jail populations are reduced, risk abated, and most people – the vast majority are causing no problems.

      So again, you want to point out that we should not do zero bail because of people reoffending, why are we punishing the law abiding for the actions of the few?

    2. Tia Will


      Not if they do not re-offend. Since it appears that 95 % have not, why is that so hard to understand?  Those that are released and do not re-offend are sparing the taxpayer the not insignificant cost of supporting their incarceration. Wouldn’t the taxpayer benefit from being able to spend that money on something other than excessive incarceration?

  3. Ron Oertel

    David:  “You have never answered what I consider the key question: why should the law abiding majority be punished for the actions of the law breaking minority?”

    I’m confused by this question.

    Aren’t most of the people in jail (and especially prisons) the “law-breaking majority”?  And, is the reason that they’re there in the first place?

    1. Keith Olsen

      Yes Ron, I didn’t answer David’s question because it’s confusing and naive on so many fronts.

      You don’t do mass releases of convicts ahead of time where many commit more crimes to later justify it by saying  it’s not fair to the ones who didn’t commit crimes.

    2. David Greenwald

      Ron – it’s very simple. States have in many cases reduced pre-trial detention for low level offenses during covid- misdemanors and non-violent felonies. (Some of them may have committed the crime, some of them may be innocent, everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty). Keith and others are arguing that because a small percentage of people who have been released have committed new crimes, some of them serious, that we should end this. But the data suggests that 95 percent of those released have not committed new crimes. So my question is why should the people who have been released and behaved themselves be punished because some haven’t? Pretty straightforward question.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Well, taking that argument further – why put them in jail at all, ever?

        Perhaps has something to do with the amount of damage that the 5% cause?  (Assuming that percentage is correct.)

        Regardless, I would take exception to your comment that the other 95% “behaved themselves”, in the first place. Most of them, I assume, are there for a reason.

        1. David Greenwald

          I think a number of people shouldn’t be in jail at all for a variety of offenses.

          On your last point, that misstates what I said. What I said was that upon release, they behaved themselves. (And again I point out these are pretrial detainees who have the right to the presumption of innocence).

        2. Ron Oertel

          Regarding the “misstatement”, it’s a prediction regarding future behavior of a percentage of them, but has nothing to do with the reason that they were in jail in the first place.

          So, your advocacy in this case has nothing to do with “punishing” the innocent.

          Now, if you’re stating that those in jail and prison shouldn’t receive “extra” punishment via exposure to the coronavirus, then that makes sense.  But, do you base that “extra” punishment on the type of crime that they’re accused of?

          For example, if they’re accused of a serious crime, then those people should “receive” the extra “punishment”?

          Taking it further, wouldn’t you prefer to let everyone out, if jails and prisons can’t protect inmates from the virus?


          1. David Greenwald

            It’s not. It’s a statement of current fact. You (they)(someone) want to punish one person for another’s misdeeds.

            “Taking it further, wouldn’t you prefer to let everyone out, if jails and prisons can’t protect inmates from the virus?”

            No. Some people are clear and identfiable threats to public safety and need to remain in custody.

      2. Jeff Boone

        (Some of them may have committed the crime, some of them may be innocent, everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty).

        There is the key in David’s thinking.

        But it is wrong.

        If they are in jail awaiting a trial, that is a different issue.  They can be released to shelter in place with a leg band.

        But if they are in jail or prison after being accused, convicted and sentenced… then by definition they are NOT innocent.

        1. David Greenwald

          The key to my thinking are the low level nature of the offense and the fact that most will not spend much if any time under normal circumstances.

        2. Jeff Boone

          We know that you don’t believe property crime is worthy of punishment.

          You are in an extreme minority position with that view.  Maybe that will change if your house gets broken into or your business gets broken into and vandalized.

          Now, in terms of drug procession… we have already dealt with that.  There are few if any people in jail or prison on drug possession charges.

          1. David Greenwald

            There is a huge disconnect here Jeff and I think you aren’t paying enough attention to this discussion. You put the last line up – but the cases that Keith is citing – these are drug cases, they are arrested on drug charges, they get released, and then they are committing another crime. The case he posted yesterday, is exactly that.

        3. Jeff Boone

          Drug possession or drug dealing?

          I am fine releasing people jailed for drug possession, as long as they do not a have priors for property crime.

        4. David Greenwald

          “You are in an extreme minority position with that view.”

          I don’t think I am – in fact, all across the country people are getting elected to DA who think just like me.

          Here’s the most recent:

          ” Maybe that will change if your house gets broken into or your business gets broken into and vandalized.”

          You’re assuming it hasn’t.

  4. Jeff Boone

    Our administrative state is locking down the citizens and setting the prisoners free.  If ever there was a valid argument for keeping government small and the power of politicians checked, here it is.

    One 89 year old person in a senior center dies of COVID-19 and it is justification for extreme draconian shutdowns that will lead to the destruction of 15-25% of small businesses.

    One 30 year old woman dies from a gunshot from a criminal illegal alien, and the odds are too small to warrant any change to the system.

    Welcome to dystopia.

  5. Ron Oertel

    David: “It’s not. It’s a statement of current fact. You (they)(someone) want to punish one person for another’s misdeeds.”

    Again, I think you’re (purposefully?) confusing “punishment” with “exposure to the coronavirus”.

    In effect, you’re stating that (only) those accused of low-level crimes should be “excused” from this “extra level” of punishment.  While leaving behind some of those accused of more serious crimes to be exposed to the virus.

    Which causes me to believe that what you’re really advocating for is not jailing people accused or convicted of “low-level” crimes.  Which isn’t a difficult conclusion to reach, regarding your previous advocacy.

    I don’t have strong opinions regarding this, just pointing out what your advocacy seems to actually reveal.

    Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to just acknowledge what you’re advocating for, in the first place?

  6. David Greenwald

    Man Serving 18 Years On Marijuana Charges Just Died In Federal Prison COVID-19 Outbreak

    Fidel Torres, 62, qualified for a sentencing reduction, but the same judge who sentenced him denied it based on infractions while in custody.


  7. Ron Oertel

    From article:  “What they still have not done is note that these cases, which now number nine in total, represent less than five percent of the total that were released.”

    Actually, isn’t this just the percentage of folks who got arrested again, within some period of time? And therefore may not be a reflection of the actual recidivism rate?

    1. Ron Glick

      Exactly, how many commit new crimes that they get away with we will never know because most crimes remain unsolved.

      Still it seems releasing people to the extent possible is the more humane approach during the pandemic. Incarceration should not be a death sentence for anyone, least of all those not convicted of murder. Certainly re-arrest for any crime that is not victimless should eliminate another bite at the get out of jail free card, catch and release, $o bail, blue plate special.

    2. Ron Oertel

      It had just occurred to me that there was a level of misrepresentation, regarding the “5%” figure.

      Also – regarding releasing them, does that mean that they’re first exposed to the virus, and THEN released into a community?

      Seems like (as usual), there wasn’t a plan in place prior to the pandemic.  For that matter, inmates/detainees aren’t well-protected from each other even during “normal” times.

      I recently posted an article (pre-pandemic) which described a significant increase in violence (in jails), apparently as a result of prison releases.  I understand that jails are even less-equipped than prisons to handle violence among inmates.

    3. Ron Oertel

      Title of article:  “Commentary: Another Example of the Media Failing to Do Its Job”

      Comment above: “It had just occurred to me that there was a level of misrepresentation, regarding the “5%” figure.”




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