Merced County selected for CA resentence pilot program
Merced is one of nine California counties chosen to participate in a pilot program that aims to bring justice to those at risk of serving excessive prison terms by sending them home to their communities.
The California County Resentencing Pilot Program was enacted by Governor Gavin Newsom as part of California’s 2021 budget, allocating $ 18 million to county governments for attorney-initiated resentence.
Merced County is expected to begin the program in September and is expected to receive more than $ 1 million to cover costs associated with the pilot program, which is expected to run until Jan.31, 2025.
The program stems from initiatives catalyzed by the Oakland-based organization For the People, which worked in 2018 to pass the country’s first law allowing prosecutors to reassess sentences through Assembly Bill 2942. of State.
The law has helped bring about 75 people from prisons to their homes.
“I don’t think there is a prosecutor out there who doesn’t have a case that he would like to bring back,” said For the Founder and Executive Director of People Hillary Bout. “As a former prosecutor, I felt it was our responsibility.
Merced’s pilot program is part of a statewide approach
Blout was previously a district attorney in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office when Vice President Kamala Harris was its elected district attorney.
Meanwhile, Blout said he witnessed problems within the criminal justice system that needed to be changed. She saw an opportunity for prosecutors to be involved.
This led to Blout forming For the People and ultimately securing the first prosecutor conviction law in California. The following year, a similar law was passed in Washington state, and the organization is working with 10 other states in the United States to pass a new prosecutorial conviction, Blout said.
These sentencing efforts align with a broader statewide strategy by the Newsom administration to reform sentences and begin closing prisons. The California legislature saw AB 2942 as another lever that could be used to potentially close more prisons statewide, Blout said.
The governor recently announced plans to close the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy in September and the California Correctional Center in Susanville in June 2022. The closures are expected to reduce costs by about $ 272 million per year.
The state budget projects that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will spend $ 112,691 for every person incarcerated this fiscal year, marking an increase of nearly $ 10,000 from the previous fiscal year.
“There is so much interest and motivation in trying to close prisons in our state because of how much state taxpayers are spending to keep people there,” Blout said.
Although AB 2942 has been law for a few years, Blout said she discovered that many counties in California were unaware of it. The pilot provides a financial investment for the counties to assign a dedicated person to do the job and hopefully get the word out about the prosecutor-initiated conviction, she said.
Having developed the process by which prosecutors review unfair or excessive sentences, For the People is acting as a budgetary sponsor of the pilot program. The other eight participating counties are Los Angeles, Santa Clara, San Francisco, Riverside, Contra Costa, San Diego, Yolo and Humboldt.
Given the diverse demographics of California counties and prison populations, the program aims to give local prosecutors the flexibility to identify the types of cases and criteria appropriate for voters in that jurisdiction.
Local officials were only recently informed of the selection of Merced County. The varying demographics of the state’s counties are part of the reason Merced was chosen for the program, as it represents the geographic center of the state as well as a mid-size population.
Who will qualify?
Deputy Chief District Attorney Stacey McReynolds said the logistics of the program’s best match in Merced County are currently being sorted out.
Civil servants need to seriously think about what case parameters and what types of crimes will be considered for sentencing, she said, as well as to ensure that justice is not undone for the families of the victims.
“Our goal is to benefit the community in terms of protection, but also in terms of doing the right thing in the right situation and making sure the community understands that we care about everyone,” McReynolds told About the task.
The pilot project involves the district attorney and the public defender’s offices in each participating county. Community organizations that have experience with incarcerated people and their support networks can also participate.
The Merced County District Attorney’s Office will work closely with the Public Defender’s Office to review the types of sentences and the types of people serving those sentences.
“It’s about looking at what people did to improve themselves, not just looking at what their actions were 20 years ago,” McReynolds said.
The California legislature chose the RAND Corporation to serve as the program evaluator. Each district attorney’s office will be required to record and report data, including implementation challenges, total number of individuals convicted, and candidate demographic information.
The program will generate two preliminary reports and one final evaluation, with an evaluation sent to the state legislature. The reports will compare how the program has been implemented in different counties.
These reports will be instrumental in showing how to improve and expand the program statewide, hopefully leading to to close more prisons, which, according to Blount, is where the real financial and social benefits lie.
The data collected at the end of the pilot, Blout hopes, will also shed light on the hidden benefits and cost savings realized when formerly incarcerated people return to society. The majority of people For the People works with have had work to create healthy coping tools and reintegration support networks.
“The other thing that we’re hoping for is that we’ll be able to learn exactly what the benefits are to bringing people home and reuniting them with their families and communities,” Blout said.
“When you bring someone home and they now work full time, maybe they allow their partner to work full time, they pay taxes, they accumulate their only money for retirement – what is the cost to us you come back?