California Attorney General Kamala Harris, considered a real rising star with a big future either on the federal bench or in electoral politics, is quite upset that attorneys in her office argued in a case that the state can’t afford to release inmates early because they benefit from prison labor.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris told ThinkProgress Wednesday she is concerned her department created a perception that the state’s prisons have a goal of “indentured servitude.” Harris was responding to revelations that lawyers in her office argued in court without her knowledge that a program to parole more prisoners would drain the state’s source of cheap labor.
“The way that argument played out in court does not reflect my priorities,” she said, adding that she fears state lawyers taking that position will create more distrust in the criminal justice system. Harris worried that heavily policed communities may suspect the state has an “ulterior motive,” especially when it seems “the penalty may not be proportionate to the crime.”“The idea that we incarcerate people to have indentured servitude is one of the worst possible perceptions,” said Harris. “I feel very strongly about that. It evokes images of chain gangs. I take it very seriously and I’m looking into exactly what needs to be done to correct it.”
In a new chapter in California’s years-long battle over how and when to reduce the population of its unconstitutionally crowded prisons, lawyers in Harris’ division pushed back against a federal order to expand an early parole program, arguing that it would deplete their stock of prison labor, especially inmates who fight wildfires.
Harris told Buzzfeed she was “shocked” and “very troubled” to discover this, and told ThinkProgress on Wednesday that the argument was counterproductive. “It’s important for us to be constantly vigilant in developing and nurturing relationships of trust with communities that are policed and impacted by criminal justice policy,” she said.
I’ve really liked some of what I’ve seen from Harris. She has bluntly called the war on drugs a failure, for example. I would expect her to ask that the filings with these appalling arguments be rescinded and refiled.