By David M. Greenwald
A few weeks ago Jonathan Raven, the Chief Deputy DA in the Yolo County DA’s Office, wrote a piece published in the Davis and Woodland newspapers, “Progressive evolution can take place without revolution.”
In it he tried to re-cast the DA not as a progressive—which it is pretty clear he is not, but as “mainstream” but still doing “progressive” things.
He writes, “While the media reports on newly elected progressive prosecutors, they miss the many innovations by prosecutors who have been in office for a while and are thus labeled ‘mainstream.’”
“Our DA might not agree with Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s recently elected District Attorney, who was highlighted in Green and Bazelon’s article, on some issues,” Raven argues. “But they are like-minded on many others. Maybe ‘progressive’ should really be redefined as ‘innovative.’”
The case here is mixed as to whether this marks a real change or simply a rhetorical one.
When he ran against Dean Johansson, as we have pointed out many times, both the Sacramento Bee and Davis Enterprise proclaimed him progressive and among the most progressive in the state. This was despite a record which was anything but.
Prior to 2018, Jeff Reisig had opposed every single reform effort put forward in the state except for Three Strikes Reform in 2012, which he didn’t oppose but didn’t support. As we have noted in the past he was one of only four DAs in the state to oppose Prop. 64—legalizing recreational marijuana use.
But he also led an office with the highest trial rate in the state, while Yolo County ranked in the middle of the counties in terms of crime rate but in the top five in the state in terms of incarceration rate.
Hard to call yourself progressive with that sort of record, but, largely on the basis of the Neighborhood Court program, many did precisely that.
That was the past. In the present, we have Prop. 20 coming up on the ballot—this is the effort by Democratic Assemblymember Jim Cooper, a former sheriff, and others to roll back criminal justice reform.
The measure would roll back changes: AB 109, Prop. 47, and Prop. 57. For example, it would redefine felony petty theft at $250—not only less than the current level at $950 but less than the pre-Prop 47 level at $450.
The San Jose Mercury News came out against it, saying that “the ballot measure (is) the latest effort by police and prison guard unions to roll back the success of Assembly Bill 109 (2011) and propositions 47 (2014) and 57 (2016), which ensured that the criminal justice system’s resources were more wisely used.”
Only 13 DAs are supporting it. Some notables include: Sacramento’s Anne Marie Schubert, Orange County’s Todd Spitzer, Tulare’s Tim Ward, and SLO’s Dan Dow.
Not on the list, though, is Yolo County’s Jeff Reisig.
How meaningful is it? Jeff Reisig has often complained about Prop. 47.
It was only a few years ago that DA Jeff Reisig stood before the Board of Supervisors and said Proposition 47 had a produced “a revolving door of low-level arrests” in Yolo County.
The Appeal in June 2018 reported, “By charging shoplifters with felonies, Jeff Reisig is circumventing Prop 47, intended to reduce CA prison populations.”
An important question: Is this a real change or is it cosmetic?
We can see a sort of duality with the DA on the issue of zero bail.
This week he or his office put out a release, noting “the ongoing impacts related to California Judicial Council’s Statewide Emergency ‘0’ Bail Schedule.”
The release continues: “The ‘0’ Bail Schedule became effective April 13, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although rescinded in June, the Yolo County Superior Court continues to use the Statewide Emergency Bail Schedule. Currently, there is no announced end date for the use of the Emergency Bail Schedule.”
The data presented in the press release are unverified by the Vanguard. The DA claims that, since April 13, “266 individuals have been arrested and released on zero bail a total of 305 times, with some benefitting from $0 bail on multiple occasions.”
And yet, the DA could have actually stopped zero bail, had he objected in June to the continuation.
Melinda Aiello, the Assistant Chief Deputy DA, sent out the DA’s policy on the statewide emergency bail schedule.
Aiello wrote that “we recognize the on-going need to maintain a reasonable jail population and after consultation with County Counsel encourage the court to return to its Emergency and Provisional Bail Schedule that became effective March 26, 2020.”
We will also note that Melinda Aiello took to Fox News to push back against the Governor’s release of a convicted killer and the DA has largely opposed parole for almost every Yolo County person up for parole this year. That pales in comparison to DA Boudin in San Francisco, who has dedicated staff working to free people under 1170(D).
It is also not clear that the DA has changed any of his charging policies.
In his 29-page response to Supervisor Saylor’s questions, his office—which in my view is badly in need of more robust analytics—released some data. It shows the 2015 to 2019 cases that were received and filed.
What we see is a small reduction over time of the number of cases received, but a fairly steady number of cases filed and a decline in the number of cases rejected. That suggests (but doesn’t provide a definitive conclusion) that the DA has maintained its case load by reducing the number of cases rejected.
A more robust analysis could better dig into this, as the summary data provided give us little.
We also note the DA again responds on the issue of racial disparities.
The DA writes: “Based on the data presented by the Sheriff, DA and Probation at the Board Workshop on racial disparity in Yolo County on July 21, 2020, the disparity of race/ethnicity is consistent across all three departments and is also very notable in that the percent of criminal justice involving black individuals exceeds the percentage of black residents in the county.”
As he did in April, he offers, “One must keep in mind that many individuals committing crimes in Yolo County are not County residents so comparing the census numbers to individuals who are criminally justice involved are ‘predictably inaccurate’ and unscientific.”
He does allow, “That being said, this data is informative and troubling and must be explored further.”
Of course we also know that when Tracie Olson on June 8 suggested there was a problem, he pushed back against her very forcefully and, in the view of many, disproportionately.
It is interesting that in the three months he has had to look at the data she presented, he really has not advanced the explanation much.
The DA’s data shows cases received, cases filed, and cases rejected. But that may actually underestimate the racial discrepancies. When Tracie Olson looked at the jail population on a day in April, it was 28 percent Black. The DA’s chart shows about 14 percent Black and over 30 percent Hispanic. By merely looking at cases filed it ignores other components—severity of charges and percentage of people in custody pre-trial, either due to severity of charges or inability to pay for bail.
The DA has consistently downplayed the discrepancies by arguing that many of the population are from out of the county. It is not clear how relevant that fact actually is. However, the Black population in Sacramento County is about 9.5 percent of the total population while, in Solano County, it is a bit higher at 13 percent. Even taking that factor into account, there would seem to be a disproportionate number of Blacks charged with crimes and, in particular, being held in custody.
The fact that the DA has not come out with a better set of analytics here either speaks to the weakness of his case or the weakness of his department’s analytics program.
It reminded me of a talk I heard from Larry Krasner when we were in San Francisco back in February before the shutdown. He talked about the work they have done in Philadelphia to create a data lab. He now has 15 people who are grant-funded full time employees.
Obviously Yolo County isn’t going to be able to grant fund 15 positions for an analytics program, but, given the poor quality of the analysis in the 29-page report, it is clear they need at least one dedicated staffer to that project.
The big picture suggests that the failure to endorse Prop. 20 is probably a political calculation rather than indicative of any real change.
One thing to watch, though, is that the DA’s office has had four deputies leave recently—I believe three this week. Rob Gorman, a long time DA, has moved over to the conflict panel and is serving as an appointed defense attorney, and three others reportedly are going to the Placer County DA’s office.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice – https://tinyurl.com/yyultcf9