Online database tracks demographics of Yolo prosecutions

Support Local Journalism


Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig believes it’s time for the community to have a purposeful conversation about criminal justice reform. What’s been missing, he says, is the prosecutorial data that facilitates those talks. “It just lacks meaningful transparency,” Reisig said of the void. “It erodes the trust between the community and the government, and it’s because the accountability is missing. It’s been a key failure in the system.” The recent unveiling of an online database, accessible to the public, could change that. Last week, Reisig’s office teamed with Yolo County’s Multi-Cultural Community Council and Measures for Justice, a New York-based nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization, to launch Commons — a first-of-its-kind data transparency dashboard that tracks the county’s criminal caseload, from arrest to resolution. Check it out here: “It has what people want,” Amy Bach, Measures for Justice CEO, said at an online launch event Tuesday. Chief among them: the ability for the public to stream accurate data and examine whether people of varying backgrounds received consistent treatment in court. And because it’s collected, validated and posted by a neutral third party, the portal offers the assurance that the numbers aren’t “cooked,” Bach says. “We have to be able to sit down in our humanity and have a conversation that’s based on fact,” Tessa Smith, chairwoman of the MCCC, said during Tuesday’s launch event. Commons, she added, provides a pathway “to have a dialogue that can stay on the rails.” Through Commons, users can explore the types of cases referred to the DA’s Office, how many resulted in misdemeanor or felony charges being filed, and the demographics of those arrested, such as their race, age and gender. From there, the portal also shows whether cases got dismissed, resolved with plea bargains or resulted in trial convictions or acquittals, as well as how long it took them to work their way through the system. “The data is an entryway to a story, and the stories haven’t been heard because the data was not assessed,” added Reginald Dwayne Betts, a Yale-educated attorney and poet who experienced incarceration in his youth. Betts said he sees Commons aiding not just prosecutors but also others within the criminal justice system — police, court officials, public defenders and probation officers — “a lot of actors making decisions they need to be held accountable for.” Tracie Olson, Yolo County’s public defender, said the Commons data “confirms that our local system has some problems.” “My greatest hope is that we can all come together and talk openly and genuinely about where to go from here, and make necessary changes so that this same data looks a lot different in the near future,” Olson said. Starting in May, the DA’s Office will take the additional step of introducing a race-blind charging manual that will redact identifying information, such as name and race, from police reports before prosecutors review them for charging decisions. Reisig also plans to use the dashboard to highlight his office’s policy goals. His current aim is to increase the diversion of felony cases by 10 percent through alternative and restorative justice programs such as Neighborhood Court, mental health court, drug intervention court and others that resolve cases outside the traditional court system. According to Commons data, prosecutors achieved that goal in January, with 13.5 percent of cases diverted, and are striving to sustain that number by July. Reisig noted the programs have been shown to decrease recidivism rates and boost victim satisfaction with the case’s outcome. “We want more people who are arrested to have access to programs that will leave them better on the back end, and that won’t leave them with the stigma that will prevent them from getting a job or housing,” Reisig said. Meanwhile, Reisig said he’s also prepared to tackle “the bad and the ugly” that the Commons data reveals. “We need to do what we can to fix it,” including examining “what the (law-enforcement) agencies are sending over,” Reisig said. Also, “we now have the ability to look years back, and if we see radical disparities, we can ask questions and dig deeper. We’re evolving as a society, and we have the ability, at least in California, to ask a judge to re-sentence somebody.” “This is the people’s data, and it’s the right thing to do,” Reisig added. “If we’re going to have conversations about getting it right, the data is the common language.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous Article

Yolo sees uptick in COVID cases causing adjustment to yellow tier entry

Next Article

Winters 2021 Educators of the Year

Related Posts