Editor’s Note: Tough on Crime slogans are being replaced with slogans such as “Right On Crime” and “Smart on Crime.” The book “Smart on Crime” was written by Kamala Harris while she was San Francisco’s first female district attorney and the first African-American woman in California to hold the district attorney’s office. She is used to being a trailblazer. By opposing the death penalty as DA and taking a more lenient stance on illegal immigration, she is also no stranger to controversy. Her book argues to reverse many traditional crime-fighting tools that have failed to keep more people out of jail, and to curb record-high recidivism rate. As the newly elected California attorney general, will Harris carry the “Smart on Crime” philosophy to Sacramento?
California’s top law enforcement officer says the keys to crime control are education, early intervention, gang control and preparing prison inmates for release to society.
“We are making sure that offenders who are going to be released in the city anyway have the preparation and skills that give them the highest possible chance for success,” she writes.
“Being Smart demand that we focus more on understanding and redirecting the familiar and well-worn routes these offenders are taking after their release,” Attorney General Kamala D. Harris writes in her book Smart On Crime, published in 2009 when she was San Francisco district attorney. She was elected state AG last year.
“To wait until the crimes are committed and simply react, after it’s too late to protect the most recent individual or neighborhood victimized by yet another turn of the revolving door, is not a tough response.
“Researchers studying the ingredients of a long and healthy life say the single most important factor in determining how long the individual will live and how healthy and secure those years are likely to be – is the person’s educational path.
“We support and refer families to community organizations that can provide after-school safe areas where kids can do homework and develop a peer group of children with a positive attitude about learning and access to adult help. We also encouraged our faith-based community and local businesses to partner with schools to provide mentors for students with attendance problems and offer incentives and awards to recognize student and faculty efforts to improve individual or group attendance.
“What we know from other nonprofit rehabilitative efforts like San Francisco’s famous Delancey Street program, which is a minimum two-year, residential program where most participants actually stay at least four or five years, is that deep changes takes time, a comprehensive scope, and shared commitment.
“Patience is another ingredient
of Smart on Crime”
“Traditionally, we have focused on trying to bring down the leaders of gangs in hopes that the rest of the gang will scatter and dissolve. However, that is not achieving the success and safety we must demand. Keeping children in school is absolutely crucial. That is why I frequently say the paying attention to truancy is a critical step we can take to create a better and more hopeful future for children, improving the odds that they will choose a lawful and productive course in life rather than fall into the clutches of gangs. The sad truth is that prisons have come under the internal social control and dominance of gangs; it’s even true that gang members on the street often report to gang members inside the prisons.
“We need to begin our interventions while gang members are still serving their sentences and demand that gang members confront the horrible consequences of violence. At the same time, we must teach them skills that will equip them to rise above these bad choices when they are released.
“Patience is another ingredient of Smart on Crime. And by that I mean an appreciation that an incremental reduction in harm should not be forsaken just because we can’t solve an entire problem in one fell swoop.”
Kamala D. Harris recognizes that crime will be with us forever, so she concludes “Smart on Crime” by embracing specific principles:
1. There are crimes that will demand permanent exclusion from society.
2. During long periods of incarceration, prisoners must have access to rehabilitation programs that consider organizations such as Victim Offender Education Group and Restorative Justice.
3. Incarceration must not further deteriorate an otherwise non-serious, non-violent offender.
4. The more educated the public is about how to protect themselves against crime, and the more children are directed against criminal behavior, the better chance crime will decrease. Thus, police should not just react to crime, but be deployed in a manner that will prevent it. Job training, substance-abuse treatment, and educational programs in prisons and jails are far more cost-effective in the reduction of recidivism. Invest in crime prevention education and better services for victims of crime. Approach gang culture earlier in the lives of youngsters through multilevel approaches. Work towards better partnerships between law enforcement and the community.