Commentary: Do Chesa’s Opponents Even Know What Criminal Justice Reform Is?

“I’ve known plenty of progressive DAs in my time – Nancy O’Malley over in Alameda County, Jeff Reisig in Yolo County.”

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

San Francisco, CA – The opponents of San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin insist that they don’t want to roll back the clock on criminal justice reform—they just want a more competent DA heading the office.

That was the message that former Assistant DAs Brooke Jenkins and Don Du Bain tried to hammer home on Monday during a debate with Boudin supporters Tinisch Hollins and former Police Officer Richard Corriea.

The problem from what I could see—they never seemed to be able to articulate what criminal justice reform actually was.

For her part, Jenkins got closer to it.

“I share in the opinion that the system is broken, and that Black and Latino defendants have been disenfranchised and disadvantaged in the criminal justice system throughout the history of this country,” she said. “But what reform looks like is not simply deciding not to prosecute and is not simply that we will not hold criminal offenders in this city accountable.

“I don’t think we are calling for a tough-on-crime DA. What we’re calling for is a competent DA, a DA that, that places as a priority public safety.” She later said, “Even the most progressive of prosecutors in the DA’s office under Chesa have walked off the job.”

Meanwhile, the cringeworthy moment came from Don Du Bain—a former DA from Solano County who was hired in San Francisco after a scandal involving withholding exculpatory evidence forced him out.

He said, “I’ve known plenty of progressive DAs in my time—Nancy O’Malley over in Alameda County, Jeff Reisig in Yolo County. Here in San Francisco we had both Kamala Harris and George Gascón, who were very progressive DAs and they were progressive because they created new innovative programs to try to keep our young people out of the criminal justice system in the first place.”

He reiterated, “Those are true progressive prosecutors. Chesa has not developed a single new innovative program as DA to reform or rehabilitate.”

Had I been drinking I probably would have spat out my drink all over my computer screen.

I have covered Yolo County for decades and, while Jeff Reisig has attempted to claim a progressive mantle, the data doesn’t back him up. And I know Pamela Price who is running for DA for a second time would say the same thing about the outgoing Nancy O’Malley.

Even the moderator Marisa Lagos of KQED seemed to question this.

“You brought up Nancy O’Malley, folks can disagree about whether she could be considered progressive, but I never see her name come up when we talk about the Oakland Murder Rate, why is it fair to lay sort of every ill of this city at one person’s feet… Another example, Anne Marie Schubert was not blamed in Sacramento when that horrific killing happened a few weeks ago. Why, why should we believe that one man is responsible for this?”

Du Bain said he’s worked for over 30 years as a prosecutor, “I’ve never been in an office until I worked for Chesa Boudin, where I saw nearly half the prosecutors in the office walk off the job and leave the office. That’s a stunning departure and a number of career prosecutors who have left under his management.”

But he never answered the question—what is a progressive prosecutor and what does criminal justice reform look like? I have come to the conclusion that they don’t support criminal justice reform, they are using the term because they are afraid to be seen as tough on crime but their language betrays them.

There were a number of other dubious claims.

Don Du Bain on numerous occasions made the claim, “He has not created any new innovative programs to either prevent crime or rehabilitate criminal offender—other than those that are mandated by state law.”

It’s a vague claim that he tried to specify, but it doesn’t seem to hold much water.  The DA’s office provided the Vanguard with a seven-page list of programs and accomplishments.

Some of these would seem to apply.

For instance, “Partnered to provide housing for justice-involved unhoused people during COVID.”  Or, “Launched primary care diversion program to prevent incarceration from impacting children and families.”  Also, “Created a new initiative to assist members of the public in obtaining gun violence restraining orders to get guns out of the hands of people who pose a threat to themselves or others.” “Secured largest grant in office history to expand victim-centered restorative justice approaches to harm.”

Those are just a few examples.

Julie Edwards, spokesperson from Friends of Chesa Boudin Opposing the Recall listed several more.

“That’s just ridiculous,” she said.  “I can name several off the top of my head.”

She named the economic crimes unit, and the worker protection unit which is not only new to San Francisco, but may be the first of its kind in the same.

“That is a unit specifically devoted to investigating economic crimes and crimes against workers,” she said.

She also noted his work with AG Rob Bonta to target manufacturers of ghost guns and help keep them off the street.

Again, Du Bain said he’s worked for over 30 years as a prosecutor, and “I’ve never been in an office until I worked for Chesa Boudin, where I saw nearly half the prosecutors in the office, walk off the job and leave the office.  That’s a stunning departure and a number of career prosecutors who have left under his management.”

But that’s not unusual.  Larry Krasner, upon taking office in Philadelphia in 2018, fired 31 prosecutors.

Edwards also noted the timing of when Boudin took office—January 2020, two months later the COVID pandemic hit and lockdown started across the country.

“That has led to a historic change that… resulted in higher than normal turnover across industries, as people’s work environment changes.”

While opponents of Boudin make a huge to-do about those leaving the office, Edwards pointed out that 12 former San Francisco prosecutors returned to the office under Boudin.

This, Edwards said, “is because they were drawn by what Chesa is doing.”

For instance, Jamal Anderson, a prosecutor who came from San Mateo County, “this is an experienced prosecutor (who came) because of the fact that he was attracted by what Chesa Boudin was saying about how we can improve public safety through smart reform policies.”

Thia Poppas, a recognized expert in domestic violence issues on the state level who had previously worked in the San Francisco DA’s office, went to Sonoma County and then came back under DA Boudin.

He now heads up the DV unit.

“As DA Boudin says, they’ve had tremendous experience, passionate people who have wanted to join the San Francisco District’s attorney office, because they’re excited about the work that’s being done there,” Edwards added.

Finally, Brooke Jenkins argued, “It is not simply prison or release.  There’s a whole gamut in between that we can take advantage of—that’s not being used right now.”

“She’s just completely off base,” Edwards said.  “This is the kind of Fox News talking points that has become typical of the recall campaign, but does nothing but mislead the vote about Chesa Boudin’s office.

Edwards noted, “The recidivism rate for people who go to jail is very high, bringing that down by providing alternative opportunities in the form, perhaps of  job training, mental health therapy, addiction therapy, restitution, etc., can and will make our communities safer.”

She pushed back, “When Brooke Jenkins says that she’s not just lying to voters about the record of the district attorney, she is willfully misleading them about how the criminal justice system works, because the reality is, is that no one goes into a diversion program without the approval of a judge.”

Moreover, she noted, that no one completes the diversion program without the approval of a judge either.

So, at the end of the day, Jenkins is “willfully misleading about the role of all the parties in our criminal justice system,” or implying “that every judge in San Francisco is in on some radical agenda to not hold anyone accountable.”

Julie Edwards finally pointed out that when Chesa Boudin ran for office, he “said that he would prioritize the most violent, most serious (offenses) and that’s what he’s done.”

She said, “When you look specifically at the issue of rape, which he talked about in the campaign, his office is bringing more of those cases to trial than any administration going back at least 10 years and holding more offenders accountable that previously had been cases that had not been taken to trial.”

She said, “I just think it shows the hollowness of the recallers’ rhetoric that they skim past the very difficult work that district attorney’s office is doing under Chesa Boudin to bring justice to victims of one of the most serious crimes that has historically been very hard, to get people to believe them, to get people to take the steps to take those cases to trial.”

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.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for