Cliff Newell: Closing the revolving door
As District Attorney, my primary mandate is public safety. It is this mandate which guides all of my decisions and motivates all of my actions.
For years, one of the greatest concerns for the public I serve has been the issue of so-called “revolving door crime.”
This term, which refers to the phenomenon of repeat low-level offenders cycling from short-term jail sentences back out into the community, is a bit of a misnomer as a term, but the issue nonetheless remains a critical concern. Despite unprecedented changes to the criminal justice system in the state, my office has been able to use innovative strategies to continue making our community safer. That we have managed this with far less tools at our disposal is a testament to the efficiency of the District Attorney’s office at present and speaks to how effective it will be in the future.
Most of the crimes involved in this problem are what are referred to as “quality of life” crimes: violations such as camping, public drunkenness, substance abuse or vandalism. While these are undoubtedly low-level offenses, they have a high-level impact on the community and everyday life for our residents. It is imperative that law enforcement and the prosecution has every tool available to help mitigate this negative impact. Throughout my tenure as District Attorney I have enjoyed a productive and positive relationship with the county’s law enforcement agencies and together we have seen the crime rate drop and the safety of our community improve. Unprecedented changes to the criminal justice system in California have made this partnership more important than ever.
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Recent policy changes, from Propositions 47 and 57 to Assembly Bill 109, have all taken away some of law enforcement and the prosecution’s critical tools. Put simply, these changes effectively reclassify many crimes from felony to misdemeanor; make it impossible to put offenders in jail for certain misdemeanors like drug use or possession; and overall reduce effective prosecutorial options. These changes are significant, because they drastically reduce the potential penalty for a wide range of crimes, and therefore reduce the incentive on the part of the person committing the crime to not become a repeat offender.
These measures were implemented at the state level in order to reduce the prison population in California; however, as with so many edicts passed down from the state to the local levels, they have had a significant effect on law enforcement’s ability to discourage repeat offenders. The attorneys in my office do their jobs well, but without stronger sentences as incentivizing factors, it makes rehabilitation a less compelling option for repeat offenders.
This is not to say that it is always my goal, or the goal of my office, to simply send people away for as long as possible in every instance. Community safety is the highest priority, and part of that priority is offering people a chance to break the debilitating cycle of crime themselves. It is my policy to encourage multiple offenders to seek rehabilitation and community service alternatives to jail time whenever possible. I have partnered with probation, courts and law enforcement to implement numerous local strategies to resolve cases through rehabilitation rather than incarceration. These strategies have been remarkably successful. According to the most recent FBI statistics, Nevada County is one of only nine counties in the state which had its overall crime rate decrease in 2016. This success, however, is despite the state’s new mandates. We will continue to develop tools aimed at incentivizing rehabilitation through the programs and strategies we have already implemented, while discouraging frequent offenders with larger sentences to allow for even greater success in curbing quality of life crimes in the county.
Combining strong prosecution, partnership with the community and law enforcement, and rehabilitation strategies has allowed us to make our community a better and safer place for all.
As I run for another term as District Attorney, my priority will remain my primary mandate of public safety, and through our partnerships and strategies for success my office will continue to work to eliminate low level crime, turn repeat offenders into productive members of society and close the revolving door.
Cliff Newell is the Nevada County District Attorney.
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