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.”
It is with a heavy heart that I must announce, the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office is at it again https://t.co/91e6R0hmvO
— Richard Van Zandt (@rvzlot) May 22, 2020
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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