by David Greenwald
Data rather than anecdotes should be driving public policy decisions during this COVID-19 crisis. And yet, what we have seen from the Yolo County District Attorney, in the form of press releases, has been a relatively steady stream of anecdotes apparently aimed at laying the ground work for an argument against the Judicial Council’s zero bail policy.
Since April 20, Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig has put out five press releases that depict four cases where an individual was arrested, released on zero bail, and then committed a new crime. In that time, the DA has put out a total of ten press releases—so half his press releases have related to this subject.
Based on this you would think that the zero bail and jail population reduction efforts as well as the zero bail policy are an abysmal failure.
But the data do not support that conclusion.
Yolo County Sheriff Tom Lopez gave a presentation to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and apparently those are the only four cases of recidivism in the county. That is out of 117 people who were released.
Effective April 13, the California Judicial Council adopted the new emergency rule which reduced bail for misdemeanors and some lower-level felonies to $0.
There are a number of exceptions to the rule, but the general belief has been that, unless public safety is at stake, the need to keep low level offenders out of jails is critical to fighting the COVID-19 crisis.
The upside of course is that the zero bail fees have helped to further reduce the jail population. The sheriff reported on Tuesday that the lowering of bail has meant 92 people have been released, reducing the jail population overall by nearly one third.
The detention facility in Yolo County is small. It has a 455 inmate maximum capacity. By March 9, that population was 291. Now it is down below 200, at 173. Only one of the inmates released early due to COVID was re-booked on new charges.
The bottom line according to the sheriff is that the zero bail—which he opposed in an op-ed last month—is not resulting in a large number of new charges.
Last month, Sheriff Lopez argued, “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.”
There is nothing unique about Yolo County—we have been covering jail issues across the country and we have noticed that there is scant attention paid to the many successful people who have been released and huge attention on the few that have committed a new crime.
On May 7, the Yolo DA put out a press release that 32-year-old Vladimir Moscaliuc has been charged with attempted carjacking by the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office. He was arrested the first time on April 29, on a technical violation basically, and released the same day. He then committed a new crime a week later.
But what the DA didn’t point out again was that he was only the fourth such case.
This is not an isolated phenomena.
Robin Steinberg—a former public defender who founded the Bail Project, speaking at a virtual event in LA last night, remarked that “this is exactly the kind of distraction that we see being raised in the media when somebody gets bail and then something bad happens—no one talks about the 9000 people who got released who went home to their families and their families were able to thrive and they went back to their jobs and did better.”
Earlier she pointed out, “Don’t get distracted by the cherry-picking of the bad cases—the person arrested three times in one day under the zero bail policy type stories. These are exceptions and they obscure the larger story of the human costs of jailing people because they can’t pay bail—and they obscure the successes of the overwhelming majority of the people who return to their families and their communities, have better life and better case outcomes when they’re out.”
In Los Angeles, they are actively attempting to circumvent zero bail.
Gascón criticized the current DA, explaining that they saw emails where DAs were told “to have law enforcement seek an arrest warrant because an arrest warrant was a way for them to stick to the bail schedule.”
The memos have encouraged DAs to charge people with looting—“which is very disingenuous” and also “not what the average person thinks of as looting.”
He even said people who are shoplifting could be charged with looting to bypass the zero bail.
Deputy Public Defender Nikhil Ramnaney called this a “creative legal strategy” to “circumvent zero dollar bail through charging decisions.
“There’s a way to technically charge anybody for looting, even if it’s an offense that has no nexus to what we traditionally think as looting,” he said.
The strange thing is that the zero bail policy seems to be working. Jail populations are down and other jurisdictions are also reporting that recidivism rates for early releasees and zero bail recipients is below historic averages.
Chesa Boudin earlier this week noted, “We have taken steps to prevent (COVID’s spread) and thus far it has been successful.”
His view: “There’s people who shouldn’t have been in there in the first place.”
With just four people who were released in Yolo County committing a new crime, it would seem like that would be a positive vision that the DA could trumpet as a success—just as Chesa Boudin is doing in San Francisco.
But the DA in Yolo—as is the case in many other jurisdictions—is only focusing on the negative. It’s too bad. There are probably some good stories to tell that are positive.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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