Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) has been engulfed in controversy over her “tough on crime” record as a prosecutor, from which she has sought to distance herself as she runs for president in a field of progressive Democrats.
Harris has pitched herself as a “progressive prosecutor,” but at the 2010 Women in Leadership Conference at the Haas School of Business at the University of California – Berkeley, she readily admitted in her keynote address that her major focus upon being elected as San Francisco’s District Attorney in 2004 was upping conviction rates, rather than making sure that the justice system treated the accused fairly and provided – well, justice.
“I believed that the District Attorney’s Office needed a turnaround,” Harris told the audience, explaining why she ran for office. “And so when I took over at the DA’s Office in 2004, I’ll tell you, morale in my office was very low. It had, and had experienced, some of the lowest conviction rates of any DA’s Office in the state.
She criticized the DA’s Office for producing “bad results” before she took over, saying that “we had slipped to a 51% conviction rate for serious and violent crimes in San Francisco, and that must have been dealt with.”
She discussed upping conviction rates in terms of return on investment to taxpayers in the way of “safety and justice,” assuming that more convictions correlated with more justice.
Harris has been dinged for her hawkish behavior as a prosecutor, which she has attempted to mask by advocating for criminal justice reform during her presidential bid. But she has not been able to shake her shadow on the issue.
The New York Times criticized her prosecutorial record in January.
“Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent,” the paper said. “Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.”
After a Wednesday night melee with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Harris was noticeably perturbed. (RELATED: WATCH: Bitter Kamala Responds After Attack from Tulsi Gabbard)
“Now Senator Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she’ll be a prosecutor president,” Gabbard said. “But I’m deeply concerned about this record. There are too many examples to cite but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.”
“She blocked evidence – she blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so,” Gabbard continued. “She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California.”
In her 2010 speech, Harris addressed recidivism rates, but failed to discuss that aggressive prosecution was impetus for jailing so many people in the first place, and then re-jailing them after they served their original sentences.
Harris’ “tough on crime” history will likely continue to haunt her during a time when the justice system is viewed by the political left as a means of oppression of minorities.
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