SAN FRANCISCO – Within the criminal legal system, district attorneys wield outsize power over people’s lives. They decide who gets charged with a crime, which charges to bring against an individual, what punishment or rehabilitation to seek, and whether children should be tried as adults.
Today, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California released two reports detailing how the top prosecutors in Sacramento and Merced Counties have used their authority to pursue policies and practices that contribute to high incarceration rates, vast disparities in charging, and the criminalization of mental illness and poverty.
Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert and Merced County DA Kimberly Lewis have spent the bulk of their offices’ resources prosecuting low-level crimes. These draconian policies have funneled a disproportionate number of Black people into jails and prisons when many of these individuals shouldn’t have been prosecuted at all for such low-level offenses or should have been sent to community-based diversion programs.
“The policy changes that we are calling for have been proven to reduce the likelihood that people will have repeated contact with the criminal legal system, while also reducing crime,” said Yoel Haile, director of the criminal justice program at the ACLU of Northern California. “It makes absolutely no sense for these DAs to dole out unnecessarily harsh penalties for low-level offenses which increases incarceration rates and leads to soaring costs. Voters can and should hold them accountable.”
Here are some of the reports’ key recommendations:
- End punitive charging and sentencing by discontinuing the criminal prosecution of certain low-level offenses like simple drug possession and trespassing.
- Adopt a list of low-level offenses such as misdemeanor DUI and petty theft that DAs automatically address through community-based treatment, rather than prosecution.
- Institute a policy to never transfer a child to adult court and create a policy to proactively seek pre-plea restorative justice diversion for the most common charges for youth.
- Limit discretionary decisions that lead to racist outcomes by establishing a policy to automatically file so called wobblers (crimes that can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors) as misdemeanors; end the use of sentence enhancements; and publish reliable key metrics on racial disparities in charging and sentencing to improve transparency.
See the Sacramento County Full Report: https://meetyourda.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/sacramento-da-report_3.pdf
See Merced County Full Report: https://meetyourda.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/merced-da-report_2.pdf