By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig has attempted for the last several years to thread a needle. On the one hand, appearing to support reform policies aimed at reducing incarceration while, at the same time, pushing back against things like early release (especially through Prop. 57) and bail reform by arguing that those policies have increased recidivism.
But experience elsewhere suggests that the approach in Yolo County—and perhaps California as a whole—is misguided.
Instead of attacking things like zero bail and Prop. 57, Reisig and other leaders in California should be figuring out ways to make release work safer for the entire community.
In August, the Yolo County DA’s Office announced that it had conducted an analysis of $0 bail and rearrests.
According to its data, “Recent criminal histories of the 595 individuals released on $0 bail in Yolo County were reviewed for any new arrests in the state of California. Of the 595 individuals released, 420 were rearrested (70.6%) and 123 (20% of the overall number or 29% of those rearrested) were arrested for a crime of violence.”
District Attorney Jeff Reisig stated: “When over 70% of the people released under mandated $0 bail policies go on to commit additional crime(s), including violent offenses such as robbery and murder, there is simply no rational public safety-related basis to continue such a practice post-pandemic, especially in light of the increasing violent crime rates across California.”
At the time, I pointed out a lot of problems with their data and analysis, but looking at an analysis from the Washington Post, I’m wondering exactly what we are doing wrong.
Molly Gill wrote, “To protect those most vulnerable to covid-19 during the pandemic, the Cares Act allowed the Justice Department to order the release of people in federal prisons and place them on home confinement. More than 11,000 people were eventually released. Of those, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) reported that only 17 of them committed new crimes.”
Pretty astounding. She added, “That’s a 0.15 percent recidivism rate in a country where it’s normal for 30 to 65 percent of people coming home from prison to reoffend within three years of release.”
Of course, Reisig isn’t just attacking zero bail, he’s also attacked most early release programs.
As Robert Hansen noted last week, “Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig has always opposed Prop. 57.”
They recently told CBS 13 that, since 2020, eight out of the 18 felons convicted in Yolo County and later released early by CDCR under Prop. 57 have since reoffended and are now back in the system.
Of course, that’s actually slightly better than the 46 percent rate statewide and about 20 percent better than the 65 percent overall recidivism rate in 2012.
I think a reasonable question is why did the federal release program succeed so much better than state and local programs?
It seems that a big reason is it was not a flat release.
Gill notes, “The agency allowed a person’s release if they had a home to go to and would be able to weather all the burdens of home confinement. Home confinement requires people to wear an ankle monitor with GPS tracking, stay home except when given permission to leave for things such as work or doctor’s appointments and remain drug- and crime-free.”
Perhaps most importantly, “No one was simply released onto the street without support or supervision.”
That’s a big criticism of general prison policies where we basically leave people to fend for themselves without the support needed to change their lives.
Gill concludes: “The Cares Act policy teaches us that many of our prison sentences are unnecessarily lengthy. People who commit crimes should be held accountable, and that might include serious time in prison. Many of the people released to home confinement had years or even decades left to serve on their sentences. But they changed in prison and are no longer a danger to others, as the new data confirms.”
Of course, there is a caveat: “Releases to home confinement were also focused on two groups of people who pose little to no risk to public safety: the elderly and the ill.”
Gill noted, “Study after study confirms that people become less likely to reoffend as they get older. America’s elderly prison population is growing rapidly, because of our use of lengthy prison terms.”
And, in fairness to Reisig, he has supported some prosecutor-initiated releases through PC §1170(d).
But the federal experience shows that can probably be done on a much broader scale without a threat to public safety.
Gill notes, “Except for people convicted of some offenses, such as sex offenses, no one was automatically barred from consideration because of their crime, sentence length or time served. The BOP instead assessed each eligible person individually, looking at their prison disciplinary record, any violent or gang-related conduct and their risk to the public.”
The results have been good.
But while this points a good way forward, I think we can do more. The biggest barrier to people reintegrating into society is the lack of actual support and supervision.
People get reincarcerated often for very minor technical parole violations. In the meantime, the barriers to things like jobs, benefits and housing are crippling to the ability of someone released from prison, already a high risk to re-offend, and then end up with limited support at best.
In short: why should we be surprised that so many re-offend when we make it impossible for people to move on?
So maybe instead of attacking early release, local leaders can figure out ways to make it work better.