By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – I keep having people calling me up wanting to know my take on the Yolo County DA’s race. In 2018, Dean Johansson surprised many (myself included) by running a powerful race and coming within just 2000 of the longtime Yolo DA.
While the DA badly miscalculated his response to Public Defender Tracie Olson in June 2020, since then he has been nothing short of masterful in positioning himself as a moderate reformer. He has patterned with Measures for Justice on a transparency and data portal, he partnered with Kevin McCarty on a pilot drug treatment policy that only got blown up by a last-minute veto by Governor Newsom, and he has partnered with Hilary Blout and For the People on early release.
On Friday, he will be on a For the People Panel with, among others, Blout and Nazgol Ghandnoosh from the Sentencing Project.
Reisig has gotten favorable, even laudatory coverage in publications like the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times, among others, for his reform work.
Is this race over? It’s hard to know. One problem that anyone challenging an incumbent will have is that the political landscape has dramatically shifted over 2020 and 2018. The pandemic, a tick up in crime rates, concern about things like retail theft have radically changed the terrain and made it much harder for reformers looking to decarcerate.
The other thing that I would point out here is that a lot of this is smoke and mirrors.
For example, Reisig has gotten a lot of mileage out of freeing Renwick Drake after a decade in prison.
The fact that this kid was freed after ten years only punctuates the injustice in this case. Under today’s law—laws that the DA has fought—Drake could not have been charged as an adult, having been only 15 at the time.
The case was overcharged as attempted murder, and only the jury prevented that travesty. Even still, he got 23 years in prison for a case in which it screams understanding the need for a separate juvenile system.
Drake was 15 at the time and developmentally disabled. He was largely along for the ride—highly influenced by the older participant, who was also the main participant.
Yeah, he’s getting out at the age of 25, but he was incarcerated since he was 15.
So the DA wants credit for releasing someone who never should have been incarcerated as long as he was to begin with—and he’s the one that prosecuted him.
The Drake case was a travesty of justice of Reisig’s office’s own making, and now he wants credit for releasing a kid who might have spent a year or two in juvenile detention these days, but was in PRISON for ten years.
While Reisig has helped to free a few people under 1170(d), for the most part he continues to fight efforts at early release.
Reisig, for example, signed onto to a lawsuit last spring attempting to block the early release 76,000 incarcerated people.
DA Reisig issued a statement stating, “It’s one issue for CDCR to unilaterally shorten sentences which can create a danger to the public and adversely impact crime victims. But to do so without transparency, public input and without a valid and legal rationale, violates core democratic principles and due process. CDCR needs to repeal these regulations and start the process anew in a fair, just and legal manner.”
Reisig also joined the efforts to block additional credits to non-violent second strikers.
Reisig added, “Violent crime has been steadily increasing across most of California. Promoting more early releases of prison inmates who have been convicted of heinous crimes or who have violent records, without any confirmation of rehabilitation, is not making anyone safer.”
Reisig through his Assistant Chief Deputy Ryan Couzens also attempted to fight the legality of AB 1950. Couzens filed on at least 27 cases—he took it up when the Attorney General’s office refused to challenge the constitutionality of the 2020 law.
In 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB 1950, authored by then-Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, which limits adult probation terms to a maximum of one year for misdemeanor offenses and two years for felony offenses.
The effort by Reisig and Couzens was frivolous and at times petty, and was summarily dismissed by the appellate courts.
As a brief by the Public Defender’s office pointed out, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to reinstate an expired probation and the DA “forfeited their right to challenge the termination of respondent’s probation by operation of law because they failed to timely object.”
While this was a somewhat technical case, the fact that the DA would file 27 challenges to state law, that the AG’s office refused to sign onto and was baseless, shows a long pattern where Reisig, despite his efforts at freeing a few people under 1170(d) has consistently opposed early release and done so in a blanket manner.
The overall record is perhaps best highlighted by the report from the Committee on the Revision of Penal Code. That report which recommends actually ending three strikes, found that Yolo County is one of the worst in the state at sentencing people to second and third strike offenses.
Yolo County is sixth worst in the state in using the three strikes law, just behind Kern and Shasta Counties and just ahead of Amador, Sacramento and San Diego. Not exactly a bastion of liberalism.
Reisig talks a good game when it comes to reform, he has done a masterful job of pushing this narrative out to the broader media, but even a recent look at his record shows it is largely smoke and mirrors.
Still, unless someone can point this out consistently, Reisig will likely win going away.