S.E. Williams

I hate to jump on the editorial bandwagon but in this case, I think it’s worth the ride. 

The criminal justice duo or should I say the “Frick and Frack” of Riverside County’s criminal justice officials, County Sheriff Chad Bianco and County District Attorney Mike Hestrin have no reservations about grabbing the spotlight and blaming criminal justice reform legislation for everything that goes wrong in the county.

In fact, they remain so adamantly against criminal justice reform that has evolved in the state in recent years that they point to various changes in this regard as the reason for anything and everything that happens in the county. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did not seek to attribute this year’s rising temperatures to criminal justice reform. 

Recently, Mike Hestrin blamed the lack of jail time resulting from the sentencing of now convicted felon, Christopher Michael Jackson–which credited him for time served, on Proposition 47, (the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act), which in 2014, realigned some charges from felonies to misdemeanors—even though the District Attorney’s office agreed to the agreement. Hestrin is now busy wiping egg off his face since he was forced to admit there was no connection between the sentence Jackson received and the mandates of the proposition.

As noted, however, Hestrin is not alone in blaming reform for unrelated issues. His partner, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, recently blamed the rise in homelessness and drug addiction on the same Proposition 47.  

In late April, the Daily Mail reported how Bianco, during an interview was quick to blame Inland Empire voters when he declared, “It was astonishing that people did not do the research of what they were voting for, and they trusted the government to be honest to them when they said it was safe schools and safe streets, because everybody’s for that, [b]ut we were lied to.”

In another example in  early April, Bianco and Hestrin along with a handful of other like- minded law enforcement individuals, mostly from other areas,  joined forces to speak out against  AB 109, an initiative passed in 2011. AB 109 was designed to  alleviate overcrowding in state prisons by allowing some inmates with shorter sentences to serve their time in county jails versus state prison facilities. 

In 2020 it appeared Bianco was working to undermine the legislation with what appeared to be the haphazard release of inmates charged with crimes that carried potential life sentences when he could have made other decisions. 

According to a Desert Sun report, he was even challenged by a judge regarding why a third-strike defendant was selected for release over others facing lesser charges and why he did not require electronic monitoring of the individual. Of course, Bianco claimed the Riverside jails were overcrowded and he did not have the ability to ensure all those he was releasing would not reoffend. I guess Bianco forgot he had a brand new  jail facility sitting empty until it partly opened in May 2020. 

Respondents to a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California shows respondents in the Inland Empire expressed the highest rate of concern over violence and street crime as a big problem in their community. (source: ppic.org)

As noted, Hestrin, Bianco or both, never miss an opportunity to harp on these reform issues. A look at a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) report released in mid-February may give some indication as to why. In the wake of the pandemic crime fell across the nation including here in California, however,  both property and violent crime increased 2021, and the PPIC Survey found Californians expressing  concerns about the rise in crime and street violence in their local communities. Interestingly, respondents in the Inland Empire expressed the highest level of concern regarding this issue–something both Bianco and Hestrin seem eager to exploit.

Although crime is always a concern, there is some hopeful news. A new study by the non profit Council on Criminal Justice shows that homicide and other violent crimes are declining though they do remain above pre-pandemic levels. 

Hestrin and Bianco prove again and again that they will go to any lengths to exploit the community’s concerns over safety. But, it is important that we do not confuse lying and exploitation with what’s real. And, what’s real is that we have a failed criminal justice system that needs to be repaired. As criminal justice officials, Bianco and Hestrin  should be serving as bridges to building a better future rather than standing as bulwarks against progress.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.