Kamala Harris Defends Her Record As California Attorney General

'I have worked my whole career to reform the criminal justice system.'

This is Senator Kamal Harris.
Mason Trinca / Getty Images

'I have worked my whole career to reform the criminal justice system.'

Kamala Harris is defending her record as a “tough-on-crime” California prosecutor as she attempts to launch a progressive 2020 presidential bid, Business Insider is reporting.

Harris recently announced that she is running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, and she’s been making the rounds around Iowa, the site of the first presidential caucus, pitching her plan at press conferences and town halls.

However, Harris has a problem. Ever since the Ferguson riots of 2014, criminal justice reform has been a hot topic with bipartisan support. This has been evidenced by the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act or FIRST STEP Act, which enacted several criminal justice reforms after passing in Congress with bipartisan support and receiving Donald Trump’s signature.

By all rights, Democrats such as Harris can usually be counted on to be champions of criminal justice reform, just as Republicans can traditionally be counted on, at least historically, to fall on the side of “law and order.” But as it turns out, Harris was a prosecutor in her career before getting elected to Congress, and her résumé as a prosecutor includes a work history that seems to suggest she isn’t as big on criminal justice reform as a progressive candidate might otherwise be expected to be.

For example, throughout her career as prosecutor, Harris publicly opposed the death penalty. However, in practice, in 2014 she appealed a judge’s ruling against the death penalty for one of her prosecutions. Similarly, according to the Intercept, she aggressively prosecuted truancy cases, essentially criminalizing skipping or being late for school. That, in turn, put more black and Latino youth into an already-overcrowded California criminal justice system.

However, she also tried to implement some legitimate criminal justice reform into her career as a prosecutor. For example, she started the “Back on Track” program, which sought to divert nonviolent first-time offenders into job training and education programs rather than incarceration.

At an Iowa town hall, Harris addressed the juxtaposition of her career as a tough prosecutor with the need for criminal justice reform. She reminded the audience that, as a prosecutor, her first priority was the safety of Californians.

“My career has been based on an understanding, one, that as a prosecutor, my duty was to seek and make sure that the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected, and that is why I have personally prosecuted violent crime that includes rape, child molestation, and homicide.”

So will her career as a prosecutor undercut her chances in 2020? Intercept writer Briahna Gray says it could.

“The more deft among the candidates — and we’ll see if Harris is among them — will figure out how to distance themselves from their records with sincere apologies and, even better, actions that manifest a commitment to change.”