Monday Morning Thoughts: Reisig Tried to Walk the Walk, but Couldn’t

By David M. Greenwald

George Gascón last week week was inaugurated in as Los Angeles’ DA.  On day one, he unveiled a revolutionary plan on a host of fronts—one of the most spectacular was his resentencing proposal.

Immediately, he recognized that the sentences “we impose in this country, in this state, and in Los Angeles County are far too long.”  He noted, “Researchers have long noted the high cost, ineffectiveness, and harm to people and communities caused by lengthy prison sentences; sentences that are longer than those of any comparable nation.”

What he plans to do about this is extraordinary, noting that Model Penal Code “recommends judicial resentencing hearings after 15 years of imprisonment for all convicted people: The legislature shall authorize a judicial panel or other judicial decision maker to hear and rule upon applications for modification of sentence from prisoners who have served 15 years of any sentence of imprisonment.”

His policy: “Accordingly, this Office will reevaluate and consider for resentencing people who have already served 15 years in prison. Experts on post-conviction justice recommend that resentencing be allowed for all people (not just those convicted as children or as emerging adults) and some experts recommend an earlier date for reevaluating continued imprisonment.”

That’s right—George Gascón’s plan will be to reevaluate all sentences of people who have already served 15 years.  That doesn’t mean that all people incarcerated will be released or that this is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

It wasn’t just Gascón either.  On the other coast, Baltimore Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby unveiled a similar resentencing plan.

Mosby acknowledged, “Our state has a mass incarceration problem…which are disproportionately imposed on people of color.”

Not only is it mass incarceration, it skews toward Black and brown people.  The State Attorney’s Office cited data from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to underscore the severity of the problem.

They found “almost 80 percent of the 2,200 prisoners currently serving life sentences throughout our State are Black…94 percent of the more than 800 prisoners sentenced to life in Baltimore City are Black.”

Already Mosby’s office “has been successful in reducing the number of people entering the jail system by almost 45 percent due to our decarceration policies and by supporting the early releases of certain individuals.”

But she is going to go further, by releasing those who pose limited to no public safety risk to the community—particularly those who are over the age of 60 who have spent more than 25 years in prison and those who committed the crime as a juvenile who have served more than 25 years.

They note crime stats that show that people over the age of 60 are responsible for just three percent of all violent crime arrests nationally.

Compare that to what we saw last week from DA Jeff Reisig in Yolo County.  Over the summer, Reisig chafed at the notion of racial disparities in the local jails, and has never demonstrated a commitment to wholesale resentencing.

On the day when George Gascón was inaugurated with sweeping changes to the LA DA’s Office and a day when, across the country, Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby put forward an aggressive sentencing review unit to reduce prison population amid COVID-19 crisis, local DA Jeff Reisig put out a release about the work his office has done.

According to their release, last week, Yolo County Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens was in court to ask visiting Judge Roy Hashimoto to take five years off the 14-year prison sentence of 26-year-old Gabriel Eugene.

Eugene, who grew up in Davis, was convicted by a jury of a residential burglary on March 30, 2016.  At the time he committed the home burglary, Eugene was on parole after recently being released from state prison on another case involving a burglary. His prison sentence included a five-year enhancement for having been convicted of another strike-offense in the previous case.

On December 3, 2020, Judge Hashimoto reduced Eugene’s sentence by five years as a result of a motion filed by the District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), which is supervised by Assistant Chief Couzens.  Additionally, Judge Hashimoto considered a motion filed by Eugene’s attorney, Steve Sabbadini, also requesting a sentence reduction.

That is great news for Gabriel and his family.  But that is but one case.  Gascón’s press release indicates they may be looking to resentence up to 2500 people.

In fact, the very next day, DA Reisig put out another press release that Yolo County prosecutors virtually attended three lifer parole hearings for inmates in three separate prisons across the state.  According to their release, they average 15 lifer hearings a year—and according to our sources they oppose release in almost all cases.

In the release they put out, they opposed release in all three cases.  This time the parole board agreed with them, but there have been a number of times where the parole board has released the individual on parole over the objections of the Yolo County DA’s Office.

The DA in their release noted: “The Yolo County District Attorney’s Lifer Division was started by District Attorney Jeff Reisig in 2007.  When criminals are sentenced to state prison for life with the possibility of parole, they have a right to parole hearings to determine whether they are suitable for release from state prison. The Lifer Division supports victims of violent crimes at these hearings by ensuring they have an opportunity to be heard.  Attorneys in the Division also help make sure that prison inmates who are still a danger to society are not released.”

The problem of course is that, even in cases where the parole board and everyone else agrees that the person has turned their life around, the DA in Yolo County is still opposing parole.

We can see the difference in the approaches—the DA in LA County is serious about reform.  The DA in Yolo County is not.

Reisig never even talks about mass incarceration.  Over the summer, Reisig’s office talked about taking a middle path between traditional law and order prosecuting and reform-minded approaches put forward by people like George Gascón.  But what we have seen is a heavy lean on traditional approaches with a bit of window-dressing for reform.

—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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11 Comments

    1. David Greenwald

      Could what be one of the reasons?  The Baltimore prosecutor?  How about the fact that DA’s in large counties in Texas – Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Travis are implementing similar policies?

  1. Ron Oertel

    Seems to me that this country goes back-and-forth between a “touch on crime” approach (when crime rises), vs. a “rights of those convicted” approach.

    Although only a movie, the original Dirty Harry touched on that theme, some 50 years ago.  As did other movies during the 1970s.

    Also seems to me that the purpose of correctional facilities has lost its meaning, a long time ago.  Also seems that there’s room for improvement in that area (preparing prisoners for successful release), while perhaps simultaneously encouraging them to help offset their costs while in prison (via training and work programs).

    At the moment, we appear to be at a zenith of the “rights of those convicted” approach, but crime is also rising again. So if nothing else happens, I suspect that we’ll see a return to a “tough on crime approach” again, soon.

    Of course, minority communities are often the most-impacted of all, regarding the impacts of crime.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I happened across the article below earlier today, as well.

      Not to make light of what happened to this lady, but maybe she could be dubbed “Dirty Harriet”?

      https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/She-Stalked-Her-Daughter-s-Killers-Across-Mexico-15797373.php

      In any case, you can see what can happen when a country devolves into chaos and corruption, with no consequences for criminal activity. Which ultimately impacts places like the U.S., as people flee to the U.S. (Hey, at least it’s better than other places, so far.)

      1. Keith Olsen

        That’s an amazing story Ron, definitely movie material.

        I think we’re going to see more and more vigilantism as people realize they can no longer depend on the cops and the justice system in this day and age of defund and release.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Regarding your question, the answer to that depends upon how many more crimes those in prison would have committed (and how many more victimized), if they weren’t incarcerated.

          The police and the justice system are the ones that put them in there.

          Your question seems to have a pretty obvious (but not entirely certain) answer.

        2. Alan Miller

          You realize that less than half of all major crimes are signed – when could people ever rely on the police and who are those people who can?

          I’ve read this three times and I still don’t know what it means.

  2. Tia Will

    I could not help but notice that not one word was said about primary prevention of crime. One of the causes of crime is insufficient resources. Helping people who are living in poverty to rise above that state by providing them enough money to live on, education and training to help them earn more, and helping break the generational & community cycles of incarceration would help to prevent that first criminal act. This is the concept at the heart of the unfortunate phrase “defunding the police”.  Actually spending money on programs that prevent that first citizen police adverse encounter should have been emphasized rather than the concept of punitively cutting police departments which is only intended by a very few.

    1. Bill Marshall

      How can you prevent drugs, mental illness or cults (including the ‘cults’ of ‘gangs’)?  Am open to suggestions… am listening… seriously…

      I believe you may well be correct as to misdemeanors, ‘minor’ felonies… will grant you that… but petty crimes can escalate into major crimes… I get where petty crimes can be resolved by UBI… MAYBE…

      But violent, egregious crimes?  Do you believe UBI will stop rapes, for instance?  Some of the famous rapists were ‘well-to-do’… even have police pensions…

      Sidenote… what UBI bracket would significantly stem crime? Am listening…

      Am listening, but am not convinced on non-minor (felony) crimes… rape, murder, etc.  But you might convince me…

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