Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie A. Bridgett spoke to the members of the Rotary Club of Burney-Fall River at their monthly lunch meeting at Gepetto’s on August 3.
Bridgett began working for the District Attorneys Office as a Deputy in 2002. In 2009, she became a Senior Deputy and in 2015 she became Chief Deputy. She was unanimously selected to become District Attorney by the County Board of Supervisors in March 2017. She has had experience in all forms of criminal prosecution in the county.
The Shasta County DA’s office has 24 prosecutors and a staff of over 60 people including a forensic unit and advocates for victims. Due to budget restrictions, she recently lost one prosecutor and an advocate.
Bridgett began by asking if people had noticed an increase in crime over the past six years.
Her message, involving the effects of Assembly Bill 109, Proposition 47, and Proposition 57, was very similar to the scenario presented at the July 11 community meeting on crime and homelessness by County Sherriff Tom Bosenko.
In a nutshell, the above mentioned laws have resulted in fewer criminals being jailed.
According to Bridgett, law enforcement agencies in Shasta County generally refer about 12,o00 cases to the District Attorney’s Office each year. Of those, about 9400 of these cases are prosecuted because the DA’s office believes that they have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt with which to secure a conviction. About 90 percent of these cases are plea bargained. Ninety to 120 go to court.
In 2011, AB 109 was passed. In order to reduce prison overcrowding in the state of California, the law mandated that for many crimes, convicted criminals would no longer be sent to state prison but would serve their terms in county jails.
The Shasta County Jail has only 381 beds and not all of these can be filled at any one time. Due to this limited jail space, many prisoners need to be released on parole or probation.
Furthermore, Proposition 47 that was passed in 2014 reclassified many former felonies as misdemeanors. This includes many drug offenses including possession of heroine. Prop 47 also changed rules regarding probation and parole.
Part of the rationale supporting Prop 47 was to emphasize rehabilitation rather than criminalizing addiction.
Bridgett said that, while the intention was good, the effect has been that many are less likely to go through rehabilitation or recovery programs.
When offenders were charged with a felony, they could be incarcerated and rehabilitation could be mandated. The state had a “hammer” to ensure that the person went through mandatory addiction counseling and rehabilitation, If they successfully completed the program, then the sentence could be reduced to a misdemeanor so there was an incentive for the person to comply.
The changes in law have also affected the mindset and behavior of people charged with crimes. Bridgett said that over 50% of people charged with crimes fail to appear in court. Many criminals know that they are unlikely to be jailed so they are more cavalier or brazen in their attitude toward the law.
Bridgett said that smaller counties in the state have borne the brunt of the legal changes over the past 6 years. Larger counties like Los Angeles have bigger jails and more extensive rehabilitation programs so they have not been affected as adversely.
Because of the problem arising from changing laws, lack of personnel, and limited jail space, the DA’s office has been reaching out to community organizations in an effort to increase crime prevention. Bridgett also been in communication with officials of other counties facing similar situations to find common solutions.
Because time was limited she did not have time to explain Proposition 57 and the effects that it had. Instead, Bridgett responded to questions and comments from Rotary members. People wanted to know what they can do. She recommended crime prevention, security and supporting legislation on the state level to try to improve the situation. There was also a brief discussion of changing crime rates and the coincident pendulum swings in the penal code over the past 50 years.
Jim Billo expressed the hope of the club that the District Attorney would come again to provide more information and discussion.