By Robert J. Hansen
The Woodland League of Women Voters (WLWV) Yolo County District Attorney Candidate forum held on Wednesday featured challenger Cynthia Rodriguez and incumbent Jeff Reisig.
The candidate’s opening statements and questions by WLWV were reported by the Vanguard and can be read here.
The candidate’s responses to questions from the audience and closing statements were edited for clarity and can be viewed here.
Q1: How would your policies help dismantle the school to prison to deportation pipeline that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities?
Rodriguez: “My policies are aimed at ending that pipeline. We need to be more supportive of our students. What we know is early intervention with children who don’t have sufficient attention or control because of their family situation is mandatory to help those kids stay out of the system. We should have a system that parallels the courts with mentors and people working with juveniles. Some so many children are not parented, maybe it’s because they work three jobs or are just absent. We have to step in, it takes a village.”
Reisig: “I’m really glad superintendent Jesse Ortiz is supporting me because we have been partners in fighting this school-to-prison pipeline. Early intervention is critical. That’s the reason why I support First Five Yolo. I’ve been a member, for nearly my entire time as DA, of Fight Crime, Invest in Kids. Five years ago I started a youth leadership academy targeting at-risk kids, most of them of color and some are in the system and we are planting seeds in their minds to disrupt the school to prison pipeline.”
Q2: Plea-bargaining is being used significantly more often, up to 90 percent of cases result in a conviction. Although it’s not a transparent process and has in some cases led to convictions that might not have had they gone to trial. What is your position on flea bargaining?
Reisig: “About 98 percent of every case filed resolves via a plea bargain. This is a problem with DAs across the country and some of it’s because of the sheer volume. These are voluntary agreements that ultimately people make. It’s necessary. We cannot take every case to trial. Seven thousand cases? People in Yolo County would come for me in the middle of the night. It doesn’t work and it’s not reality. My office has strict policies to make sure it’s not abused.”
Rodriguez: “The use of plea bargaining is so familiar, It’s on every TV show and everybody’s mind. The problem with this is that it starts before this with the DA. Yolo County has been notoriously known for a long time for charging huge amounts of counts and having so much leverage over defendants and actually frighten or manipulating people into taking a plea because of a large number of charges and here’s that they could add up because of the way they’re charged. While it needs to exist, plea bargaining needs to be done on a fair playing field. We need to make sure people are pleading because they did something, not because they’re scared of the number of years they face because of the number of charges.”
Q3: What are the pros and cons of restorative justice programs being controlled by the DA’s office rather than being independently managed like they are in other California counties?
Rodriguez: “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to waste the money in the DA’s office when others have to be involved in actually teaching these matters. In this county we mostly see people getting diversion only after the plead. Meaning they’ll always have some sort of record. People should only have to take a charge if they fail diversion and keep a clean record.”
Reisig: “Criminal cases originate when police make an arrest and they send the case to the DA, so the DA is always going to see the case because we are the chief law officer. The DA has discretion whether to charge a case or not and that’s what we do. We’ve gotten better and better over the years. We decide to send people to restorative justice if it’s appropriate.”
Q4: What will you do to rectify the disproportionate amount of people of color in the Yolo County criminal justice system?
Reisig: “It is a fact that there’s racial disparity in who police are arresting and who is in our jail. But we’re not alone. When you look at the data, The county with the highest disproportionate number of Black people in jail in San Francisco. And the second-worst is Marin County. Then you got Solano County. What are we doing in Yolo? I’ve told you I partnered with Stanford University to come up with the race blind charging algorithm. Lady justice is blind in Yolo County.
Rodriguez: “First of all I think the statistics need to be analyzed or something that has been done. It’s 16 years to put out the statistics and still don’t know what they mean because there’s no analysis. We need to figure out where it’s a problem. Since he put the statistics out a year ago there has not been any further conversation about it. We can’t go on with these numbers, we can’t expect society to stay calm and not figure out why more people of racial minorities are imprisoned than their demographics of the county.”
Rodriguez: “Everyday you are affected by the programs this office chooses to use to make everyone safer. We need a DA that understands what the crime issues are and why. And we need an understanding on how that can be changed. We’ve heard several times tonight about how it’s got nothing but worse under Mr. Reisig’s direction and we need to take heart of that and make sure we don’t just keep turning it over to someone with experience with only one job. We have choices for what kind of programs we want to see, what kind of ways we want our neighbors and children to be treated and what kind of solutions we want to apply to the problems of everyday modern life and I say that you should make that choice, me.”
Reisig: “Several months ago I got a call from the Sacramento Bee. I invited the reporters into my office and I told him what I prefer told you out here tonight. So I look up at this headline ‘Threading the needle, California’s most progressive DA might be in Yolo County.’ Two quotes jumped out at me. ‘Yolo county is more than simply offering an innovative approach to prosecuting. They’re charting a sensible path To contemporary criminal justice and lasting change. Reisig’s approach avoids matching ideology By letting the data shape the policy, he is letting the undeniable truths of the criminal justice system dictate how a modern prosecutor should enforce the law.’ I was honored by the article and I’d be honored with your support.”