Democrat presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ team is trying to distance itself from a growing scandal: Harris oversaw the California Department of Justice’s push to block parole for prisoners so that they could continue to serve their prison labor.
Jackie Kucinich reported for the Daily Beast: “According to court filings, lawyers for the state said California met benchmarks, and argued that if certain potential parolees were given a faster track out of prison, it would negatively affect the prison’s labor programs, including one that allowed certain inmates to fight California’s wildfires for about $2 a day.
“Extending 2-for-1 credits to all minimum custody inmates at this time would severely impact fire camp participation—a dangerous outcome while California is in the middle of a difficult fire season and severe drought,” lawyers for Harris wrote in the filing, noting that the fire camp program required physical fitness in addition to a level of clearance that allowed the felon to be offsite.”…
Harris, for her part, told BuzzFeed News two months after the arguments were made on her behalf, that she was “shocked” by the argument, telling the publication she was looking into it.
Asked about the case this week, Harris’s presidential campaign said she took action.
“As she said at the time, Senator Harris was shocked and troubled by the use of this argument. She looked into it and directed the department’s attorneys not to make that argument again,” said spokesman Ian Sams. “Her office, on behalf of the state corrections’ department, then came to the table with the plaintiffs’ representatives to negotiate an agreement, which the court subsequently approved, that led to an expansion of the 2-for-1 credits.”
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Thinkprogress reported in 2014: “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.”
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