CA-AG: Kamala Harris Gets Dragged Through the Mud for Doing Her Job

SF District Attorney has her fair share of supporters and some who are a bit “frustrated,” with her tenure in the DA gig.  

Say what you will about her, but Harris has done more to create innovative programs and solution to both our crime problems and our prison crisis than all but a handful of DAs nationwide. In a state with a repeat offender rate of about 70%, substantially above the national recidivism rate, we should be looking for new ways to treat crime.  Rather than simply packing more people in jail until they get out, and almost inevitably end up back in the criminal justice system, we should attempt to find ways to reintegrate people into the

For example, take the Back on Track program, a program with rather astounding results.  From an AG press release:

Back on Track has lowered recidivism rates among the participating drug offenders to less than 10 percent as compared to statewide recidivism rates of more than 50 percent among the same population. All of the nearly 100 current participants are employed and/or in school, and 90 percent of participants with child support obligations are in good standing and making their required payments. Defendants are not eligible if they have histories of gang involvement, gun possession or violence.

Those are really good statistics, and we should be applauding this data.  But, as with any program in this population, there are going to be people who go astray from the program. The LA Times found such a story yesterday (which was then dutifully rewritten by the Chronicle) about an unfortunate victim of a mugging in San Francisco.

A stranger, later identified as Alexander Izaguirre, snatched her purse and hopped into an SUV, police say. The driver sped forward to run Kiefer down. Terrified, she leaped onto the hood and saw Izaguirre and the driver laughing. The driver slammed on the brakes, propelling Kiefer to the pavement. Her skull fractured. Blood oozed from her ear.

Only after the July 2008 attack did Kiefer learn of the crime’s political ramifications. Izaguirre, police told her, was an illegal immigrant who had pleaded guilty four months earlier to a drug felony for selling cocaine in the seedy Tenderloin area.

He had avoided prison when he was picked for a jobs program run by San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris, now a candidate for California’s top law enforcement post. In effect, Harris’ office had been allowing Izaguirre and other illegal immigrants to stay out of prison by training them for jobs they cannot legally hold.(LAT 6/22/09)

Is this unfortunate? Yes, certainly. Is it a reason to shut down the Back on Track Program? Definitely not.  

Izaguirre is an interesting case because he is an undocumented immigrant.  So, there is a touch of nativism, and “ship them out of here” to this case.  Now, it is an outstanding question as to whether he should have been deported. There is a real case for that.  However, it should not be the duty of local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws.  In theory, that is what ICE should be doing.  

You could make an argument that there be some reporting system of felonies to ICE,but that is a question of federal, not local law.  And bringing up this seperate question in the context of Back On Track preys on the fears of the public without actually helping the problem.  

Let’s try this thought experiment: In Oakland, a parolee murdered two sisters in their hotel room. Is that a tragedy? Absolutely, but we cannot simply use that tragedy as an excuse to end all parole.

In our society, and pretty much every modern society, we have chosen to live with a low level of crime.  I know, I know, we aren’t supposed to say that, but it’s the price of living in a society with civil rights.  If we didn’t mind police cameras in our living rooms, we could probably reduce crime substantially, but then we are living under the watchful eye of Big Brother. We’ve opted to keep Big Brother shackled in most areas of our lives, and so we must deal with the occasional crime.

Kamala Harris may not be perfect, after all she is a politician.  However, this program is a valuable attempt to cut the ToughOnCrimeTM crap that Republicans like George Runner are peddling. In fact, Tom Harman, a Republican state Senator from the OC who is also running for AG, even got a link to his press release on the front page of the Chronicle’s site. (A quick note to the Chronicle’s web people and really everybody else: PR “Newswire” is just a stream of press releases. Linking to it as a “newswire” is rather deceptive.)

We need to address the really serious questions in our criminal justice system, and providing successful rehabilitation programs is a win-win-win. It’s good for the offender, it’s good for the state as it is cheaper, and it is good for the public safety.  There will be failures in all of these programs, but they will always get outsized coverage. I guess the successful rehabilitation of a drug dealer doesn’t make for as interesting of a story. But the success stories are extremely important for the future of our state.

8 thoughts on “CA-AG: Kamala Harris Gets Dragged Through the Mud for Doing Her Job”

  1. One of the best hit-backs on the ToughOnCrimeTM crap is to point how how very expensive our system is.  I don’t think it would be very hard to calculate how much money gets saved by a 1% drop in the recidivism rate, since every person who doesn’t go back into prison on the revolving door plan is a person who (1) we are not housing at our expense, and (2) is likely to be paying into the system via various taxes.

    As a thought experiment, let’s do this as a “back of the envelope” calculation.  Per person:

    * $35K/year per prisoner.

    * $5000/year in taxes per freed prisoner.

    * 160K prisoners in system

    * 25% paroled per year (Totally Silly Wild Ass Guessed).

    * $3K/year cost of paroled (Absolute SWAG).

    * 70% recidivism rate

    Based on these assumptions, we have

     160K x 25% x 70% = 28K recidivists / year

    Every parolee that doesn’t reoffend saves us

     $35K – $5K – $3K = $27K / year

    So a reduction of 1% would save us state wide

     28K x 1% x 27K =  $7.6M

    That’s just pulled out of my backside.  People who have more time and better numbers can greatly improve on these.

    Kamala is saving SF and the state serious money.  Also note: a lowered re-offend rate also saves the public and the state money because of the crimes that aren’t committed as parolees don’t relapse.

    ToughOnCrimeTM isn’t just stupid.  It’s expensive too.

  2. First off, I’ll say this – the Bay Area, San Francisco in particular, have the courage to try a lot of innovative strategies in dealing with a lot of societal issues, crime included.  I’m so glad they do, because I’m sure countless programs have been based on the Bay Area’s experimentation.

    Having said that, there is a narrower criticism here that is valid.  Not whether or not the guy should have been deported, like you, I’ll leave that to the Feds, but whether he should’ve been in a program to train him to obtain gainful employment when he couldn’t legally obtain gainful employment to start with.  SF has a lot of reasons to look the other way on many other issues of residency status, but when you have a program with limited resources within which only legal residents can obtain benefit from, it makes sense to restrict it to legal residents, or more appropriately, to the wider and neutral status of “is this person, upon release, eligible to work in the State of California?”  It’s a program with limited enrollment – the slots should be given to people who can actually benefit from it.

    Writ short: The program is a good program, but a mistake was made in the implementation.  Was it because they don’t screen, or because the screening produced an error?  I haven’t read enough to know.

    Having said that, it’s no reason to run Harris up a flagpole.  I think she is definitely one of the best DA’s in the state, and since nobody else in the State has the courage to experiment with recidivism prevention, she deserves some latitude here.

  3. San Francisco has a long history of protecting illegal aliens from deportation.  There have been prior reports concerning the probation department in San Francisco (technically an arm of the court) keeping offenders out of custody specifically so that they will not be deported.  San Francisco, it would seem, has its own foreign policy.

    One must remember that not too long ago Democrats opposed illegals because they took jobs from Americans and reduced the pay of Americans who worked.  Republicans, of course, loved this as one of their “marketplace” solutions to the “problem” of high (i.e., living) wages.

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