By Robert J. Hansen
In the spirit of Second Chance Month, On April 13, 2022, the District Attorney used a new law and requested that the 15-year prison sentence of Kaitlin Vaughn be modified according to a Yolo County DA press release.
Vaughn, the eleventh person released early and the first female, was released on that same day, after serving five years of her sentence.
“I just wanted to say thank you for having me today and thank you for giving me a chance,” Vaughn said to the judge. “It means the world to me, and I will not, I will not, I promise, I will not let you down.”
California’s Prosecutor-Initiated Resentencing (PIR) law or AB 2942, was passed in 2018 and is the first in the country which allows prosecuting agencies to facilitate the release of incarcerated people where “further confinement is not in the interest of justice.”
The Public Defender’s office has been instrumental in helping facilitate the reduction of prison sentences so these individuals can have a second chance.
Last year, President Joseph Biden proclaimed April “Second Chance Month,” and Yolo County passed a resolution declaring the same.
Biden’s proclamation stated a need for America’s criminal justice system to offer meaningful opportunities for redemption and rehabilitation.
“It means providing quality job training and educational opportunities during incarceration to prepare individuals for the 21st Century economy,” Biden said. “And it means reinvesting the savings from reduced incarceration into reentry programs and social services that prevent recidivism and leave us all better off.”
“The criminal justice system in Yolo County is unique. When I talk with my colleagues across the state, they are amazed at the many programs we offer to give individuals in the system a second chance,” Yolo County Supervisor Angel Barajas said. “And it’s not uncommon for their District Attorneys, Public Defenders, and Probation Chiefs to contact us to learn about our successes.”
Yolo County’s Interim Administrator Chad Rinde shared praise for the collaborative relationship of the criminal justice partner agencies in Yolo County. “I am grateful for how the Public Defender, District Attorney, Probation Department, and Health and Human Services agency work together, collaborate on programs to best serve our community and resolve problems when they arrive.”
Rinde said in other counties, these agencies adopt a preference of competing rather than collaborating, typically with poor outcomes.
“In Yolo, while there are challenging moments, they (the agencies) all share the same goal of keeping the public safe while also using the many tools at their disposal to give people a second chance,” Rinde said.
The DA’s office offers a diversion program called the Restorative Justice Partnership (formerly Neighborhood Court), where misdemeanors and felonies are handled by volunteers and participants, and those arrested for crimes end up with no convictions and are given a second chance.
According to the Commons data portal, there were 4915 cases referred to the District Attorney from Sept. 2020 through Sept. 2021 and 365 were diverted through the Restorative Justice Partnership. That’s 7.4 percent of all cases.
The District Attorney’s office now views drug possession violations as a public health issue, rather than a public safety issue, and is working in partnership with the Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency to divert individuals into treatment.
In 2021, anywhere from 24 to 36 percent of all cases referred to the DA were given diversion on any given month, according to Commons data. About half of all diverted cases are for some type of drug offense.
The Public Defender, Probation Department, Health and Human Services Agency, District Attorney, and the Court have partnered and collaborated to give individuals suffering from serious mental illness and/or substance use disorders a second chance in Addiction Intervention Court, Mental Health Court, and the newly-started Mental Health Diversion program by offering these individuals holistic treatment, rather than jail. Hundreds of individuals living with a substance use disorder and/or mental illness get second chances in Yolo County.
Thirteen cases were diverted through the mental health court from Jan. 2021 to September 2021 according to the most recent available data on the Commons portal.
The Public Defender’s office operates an innovative Record Mitigation and Community Reintegration Clinic, which provides legal representation to individuals seeking expungement and other post-conviction remedies to clear up criminal records after completion of probation or a custodial sentence, thereby removing barriers to economic stability and a return to crime.
The District Attorney’s office has partnered and collaborated with the Public Defender’s office, as well as private attorneys, to modify older convictions suffered by non-citizens to avoid immigration consequences and possible deportation, thereby reducing the likelihood of deportation for these individuals according to the DA’s office.