There was a time not so long ago when a district attorney who was "tough on crime" was enough for most voters. Not anymore. This is an era of criminal justice reform in California, and top prosecutors must show they know when to throw people in jail, but also when to try a diversion program instead.
Although not without stumbles, Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig has shown he can walk this increasingly fine line. Even progressive voters should be comfortable picking him over challenger Dean Johansson on June 5.
First elected in 2006, Reisig has made a name for himself leading an office that has aggressively prosecuted several high-profile cases, including last year’s triple homicide in West Sacramento. and the death of Baby Justice Rees, found in a slough after being left there by his drug-addled mother.
But away from the limelight, Reisig also has launched several diversion programs in hopes of keeping more people out of the criminal justice system.
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Chief among them is Neighborhood Court. Community volunteers work with people accused of misdemeanors to find a remedy that doesn't involve legal repercussions. If re-elected, Reisig says he plans to expand the program to handle low-level felonies in Davis.
The DA also has vowed to double the size of mental health court and add more beds to the county’s addiction intervention court. Meanwhile, a community prosecutor program is in the works for West Sacramento, in hopes of building trust between the community and law enforcement.
He supports a push at the state Capitol to require the California Attorney General’s Office to investigate all officer-involved shootings. He also requires prosecutors to do implicit bias training.
Despite all of this, Reisig, like a number of district attorneys up for re-election this year, is being challenged from the left. Johansson, a longtime Yolo County deputy public defender who is being backed by civil rights and labor groups, has attacked the DA's programs as “window dressing.” And, indeed, not all of Reisig’s record is progressive.
Reisig has opposed a number of reform-minded ballot initiative and his office also has taken heat for prosecuting crimes involving pot. The DA also has faced questions about the role his office played in prosecuting the "Picnic Day 5," given that a report found that police lied about what led up to the brawl.
It's good Johansson is asking these questions. This is why we have elections. But voters would be remiss in writing off Reisig as a tough on crime DA, instead of the viable middle-of-the-road candidate that he is.
Voters won't have that choice for Yolo County sheriff, as Undersheriff Tom Lopez is the sole candidate. The current sheriff, Ed Prieto, will be on the ballot, too, but he pulled out of the race.