The shakeup of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office earlier this summer has opened rifts in the local criminal justice community and made the future of justice reform less certain, as the City’s new prosecutor announced plans to undo numerous policies of former DA Chesa Boudin.
Following June’s special election recall of Boudin, Mayor London Breed announced the appointment of Brooke Jenkins as interim district attorney until the November midterm election, the Associated Press reported.
Jenkins was an experienced prosecutor on Boudin’s staff who quit in 2021 and took an active and vocal role in the recall effort, accusing her former boss of mismanagement and being soft on criminals.
She and other Boudin critics have blamed the former DA’s policies for the city’s rising drug and crime rates, saying San Francisco had devolved into lawlessness and become a sanctuary city for crime during his short tenure.
Capitalizing on the ever-growing concerns over crime and public safety in San Francisco, Jenkins signaled that she intends to reverse a number of her predecessor’s key reform policies, Mother Jones reported.
“As your next district attorney, I will restore accountability and consequences to our criminal justice system here in San Francisco,” Jenkins said during a news conference at San Francisco City Hall the day before her swearing-in. “Violence and repeat offenders will no longer be allowed to victimize our city without consequences.”
During Boudin’s time in office, he refused to charge children as adults, irrespective of the severity of their offense. He also eliminated the use of cash bail and gang-related sentencing enhancements — so-called “tough-on-crime” policies that were disproportionately tough on racial minorities and the poor, said Mother Jones.
Jenkins, herself Black and Latina, wants to return these tools to the belts of prosecutors to use at their discretion, worrying some Bay Area progressives and reform supporters.
One reform measure that is not on the chopping block, however, is the District Attorney’s Innocence Commission, established by Boudin in 2020 to investigate and exonerate wrongful convictions, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The panel announced its first exoneration in April after an 18-month investigation cleared a man of murder after he had served 32 years in prison.
“I am committed to continuing and supporting the work of the Innocence Commission to ensure that we help free any innocent individuals who may have been wrongfully convicted and provide justice that has been delayed,” Jenkins said in a written statement to the Chronicle.
Nonetheless, some San Francisco politicians want more than just assurances from the new DA.
SF Supervisor Dean Preston is pushing a resolution urging Jenkins to keep the Innocence Commission intact and independent from the District Attorney’s Office. The resolution also calls for the new DA to keep alive the office’s Post-Conviction Unit, which works toward resentencing those who previously received overly harsh or disparate prison sentences.
Geoffrea Morris, whose brother was killed by San Pablo police, runs a domestic violence program and is a leader in the Black community. Morris says Black citizens won’t support a return to the old mass incarceration mentality, according to the Chronicle.
“San Francisco’s Black community will not be silent nor endorse any Black candidate that is seeking to go back to the 80s and 90s policies of locking everyone up and throwing away the key,” Morris said.
But Jenkins, a self-described “progressive prosecutor,” says she doesn’t believe accountability and justice reform are mutually exclusive.
“Holding offenders accountable does not preclude us from moving forward with vital and important reforms to our criminal justice system,” she said. “We are a city of second chances. But the truth is we have to draw a line with people who choose hate, violence and a life of crime.”
Public defender Ilona Solomon, who worked opposite Jenkins just before she resigned last year, dismissed the new DA’s rhetoric.
“Anyone can say they are a ‘progressive prosecutor’,” Solomon told the Chronicle. “It’s now a meaningless term.”