By Robert J. Hansen
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig spoke at a For the People webinar about prosecutor-initiated resentencing last month.
Prosecutor-initiated resentencing was a law passed in California in 2019 which gives prosecutors an opportunity to release people serving sentences that no longer serve the interest of justice.
Nearly half (46 percent) of California’s prison population has served 10 years or more of their sentence according to a 2021 report by For the People.org.
“It’s cost over a hundred thousand dollars per year to have somebody incarcerated,” Hilary Blout, Founder and Executive Director of For the People said.
California will spend $871 million in 2022 to keep 8,465 people in prison who have already served ten years or more for offenses being reviewed for resentencing according to the report.
Reisig said when he began as a prosecutor in the 90s, the United States was at the height of the tough-on-crime era.
“I like to say we’ve evolved. Prosecutors are evolving at how we look at a lot of the crime issues,” Reisig said.
Reisig said that there of course is still a need for prisons and people that need to be put in prison.
“But not everybody and certainly not for the length of time that some of these people were during the tough on crime era,” Reisig said. “Sometimes I just say wow, that was way too long.”
Up to 26,000 people could safely be released if prosecutor-initiated resentencing were used at scale throughout the state.
Reisig said prosecutors have an ongoing duty to ensure justice is done and someone serving double digit sentences when nobody was harmed is not justice.
“That’s not justice and we can do something to fix it with this law,” Reisig said.
Reisig said victims are a critical part of the analysis his office goes through when considering resentencing.
“Their opinion and their input is critical. We (prosecutors) have a special relationship with victims of crime. We don’t want to engage in a process that ignores them or re-traumatizes them at all,” Reisig said.
Since 2019 the Yolo District Attorney’s office has resentenced 10 cases and is looking at more according to Reisig.
“When I talk to prosecutors around the country I tell them, you were empowered to do justice and bring the victims into this discussion,” Reisig said. “It’s better than any other law out there in that regard.“
Reisig looks at incoming cases and sentences differently because of prosecutor-initiated resentencing.
He said his office considers traumatic childhoods, mental illness or substance abuse or other risk factors when evaluating new cases.
“These are things that now we are looking at on the front end much more robustly than we ever have before,” Reisig said.
“There are things that we have now that really require us to do a deeper dive into who is the individual that is being accused of the crime,” Reisig said.
Reisig said that his work with For the People has compelled him and his entire team to have much more robust discussions about what is an appropriate sentence.