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
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 SFGate.com 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.