With the renowned Delancey Street rehabilitation center as her backdrop, Attorney General-elect Kamala Harris used her first news conference since winning the race to reaffirm her intention to reform prisons and implement new ways of dealing with crime and punishment.
Harris, the Democrat and former San Francisco District Attorney, took over California’s top law enforcement office in January after narrowly defeating her Los Angeles counterpart, Republican Steve Cooley.
Speaking about the need to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system and address its 70 percent recidivism rate, Harris said, “This revolving door has to be shut. There has to be some leadership around that, and I intend to be that kind of leader.”
Harris made prison reform a cornerstone of her campaign. She promised to emphasize rehabilitation and figure out ways to divert criminals from prisons. She said the lawmakers and prosecutors should combat the social problems that lead to crime, not just the criminal.
The 46-year-old Harris replaces Democrat Jerry Brown, who moved up to the governor’s office after his successful campaign. She is the first black and the first woman to hold the Attorney General’s post in California. Her victory also gave Democrats a sweep of all statewide offices.
Harris’s campaign was scarred by criticism relating to tainted evidence blamed on San Francisco police and failure of prosecutors to disclose police officer’s criminal history to defense attorneys. Both incidents led to the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases.
Despite such controversies, Harris prevailed with environmental protection and prosecution of financial predators, also cornerstones of her campaign.
“I think she might be good,” said San Quentin inmate Kamal Sefeldeen, a clerk in the law library.
Sefeldeen expressed hope that she does not see her role as a blocker of every lifer release like past Attorneys General. He also would like to see Harris work with criminal justice professors and students to come up with options for reform, and for her to adopt a plan to release some of the 7,000 non-citizen prisoners who have done their time and want to be deported, but are being held in limbo due to political pressures.
“I’ve heard good things about her,” states inmate Karl “Ishmael” Freelon, “but it’s to be seen how true it is.”