Yolo DA, public defender get $1.1M for sentencing reform

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Yolo District Attorney Special to the Express Yolo County recently was selected to be one of nine counties to receive funding for the California County Resentencing Pilot Project. This project builds upon legislation created under AB 2942, which became effective Jan. 1, 2018, and gives prosecutors the authority to petition the court to reduce state prison sentences that no longer serve the interests of justice. After the passage of AB 2942, the Yolo County District Attorney was one of the first in the state to partner with For the People (www.fortheppl.org), a nonprofit organization started by former San Francisco prosecutor Hillary Blout, who drafted the bill. Last fall, UC Davis’ King Hall School of Law Professor Jack Chin, in conjunction with For the People and the Yolo DA’s Office and Public Defender, started a sentencing clinic course at King Hall. The students, under Chin’s direction, assess eligible individuals and make recommendations to the DA’s Office as to whether inmates should be considered for a sentence reduction. The DA then files a motion with the court to start the process of reducing the sentence of the incarcerated individual. Since 2018, the Yolo DA has filed motions in six cases for sentence reductions. Despite the partnership between For the People and the UCD law school, only a small number of cases can be reviewed annually. Recognizing the amount of work required to undertake a sentence review and the limited resources, For the People requested funding for the Resentencing Pilot Project as part of the 2021-22 California state budget. Of the $18 million allotted statewide for this program, the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office will receive $717,000, while the Public Defender’s Office will receive $415,000. While administering the pilot program, and in addition to identifying, investigating and recommending sentence reductions, the DA must also develop and implement the pilot program policy and protocol, as well as identify and track specific measures consistent with the goals of the project, then provide data to the state on a quarterly basis. Cases selected for review have come from a variety of sources, including recommendations from the Public Defender’s Office, family members of incarcerated individuals and Yolo DA’s own internal review. The Public Defender’s Office has assisted inmates by preparing social histories and release plans. Those who have received sentence reductions have either undertaken extensive rehabilitative efforts and/or their sentence is now considered too lengthy. “Public safety is our main priority,” Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig said. “However, if an individual has undergone rehabilitative efforts such that they no longer pose a threat to public safety, it is right and just to review that sentence. “We also must be willing to analyze prison sentences that are disproportionate by today’s standards,” Reisig added. “This funding will allow us to expand our case review and continue to work in partnership with the Public Defender’s Office, UC Davis Law School and For the People.” Added Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson: “There are many people serving excessively long and punitive state prison sentences based on the unproven ‘tough on crime’ mentality that persisted in the criminal legal system for so long. The ability to right past wrongs through resentencing is part of a package of criminal justice reforms passed by the state that created new responsibilities for local offices without providing additional funding to support the work. “However, the funds awarded through this pilot project will allow us to accelerate the process of reviewing cases and expand our reach, because the need is far greater than we were able to accomplish without new resources,” Olson said. The three-year pilot begins Sept. 1 and ends on Sept. 1, 2024.

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