Kamala Harris’ shame

Easing parole restrictions for convicted rapists for pure political gain.

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According to the website for her U.S. Senate campaign, California Attorney General Kamala Harris “believes that we must maintain a relentless focus on reducing violence and aggressively prosecuting violent criminals.” Yet when Governor Jerry Brown qualified a measure for the November ballot that would offer easier parole for convicted rapists, the attorney general drafted a deceptive ballot summary of the initiative which made no mention of the dangerous oversight and instead described various forms of rape and violent sexual assault as “nonviolent felonies.”

Governor Brown’s initiative, which will appear on the November ballot as Proposition 57, would permit “any person convicted of a nonviolent felony offense” to “be eligible for parole consideration after completing the full term for his or her primary offense.” The governor has pitched the measure to voters as a narrowly tailored solution to overcrowded prisons and draconian sentencing guidelines. At a May breakfast before the Sacramento Host Committee, Mr. Brown criticized the “automatic-pilot mechanistic rigidity” of California’s sentencing guidelines and added that his ballot measure would add much-needed “flexibility” and “discretion” to the state’s criminal justice system.

But the ballot measure’s definition of nonviolent felony offenses is incredibly broad, broader in fact than the definition used by the attorney general’s office to prosecute criminals. Under Prop. 57, only 23 crimes in the entire California criminal code will be considered “violent felonies.” This change carries obvious ramifications for public safety, as felons who have committed violent crimes as defined by the A.G.’s office but not by the ballot proposition would benefit from loosened parole guidelines and achieve early release into their communities in spite of their violent conduct.

As the state’s top prosecutor, Ms. Harris was tasked with drafting a summary of the ballot initiative which would accurately capture its effects for voters this November. But rather than offer an honest assessment of the plan, which by the admission of her own agency would permit the early release of violent criminals, the attorney general toed the party line and, quite simply, lied.

“Allows parole consideration for persons convicted of nonviolent felonies upon completion of full prison term for primary offense, as defined.”

— Ballot summary for Prop. 57

As the Sacramento Bee reported on Saturday, among the crimes considered “nonviolent” under Prop. 57 are “dozens” of forms of rape, including “rape with a foreign object” and “other sexual assaults” which Ms. Harris’s own crime report, which was released on July 1st, “considers to be violent crimes.” Hostage-takers, human traffickers, and drive-by shooters would also qualify for easier parole under the initiative.

And when the Bee reached out to the attorney general’s office for comment, the response was baffling. “The term ‘nonviolent felony offense’ comes from the language of the governor’s sentencing measure itself,” a representative of Ms. Harris tried to explain. “If the measure is approved by voters, it remains to be seen how ‘nonviolent felony’ will be defined.” 

For all her talk of standing up for victims of violent crime, especially of sexual assault and rape, Ms. Harris has proven herself to be an empty suit, only willing to work for victims insofar as it advances her political career. She cast herself as a no-nonsense crime fighter in her 2014 bid for reelection as attorney general, and her Senate campaign website anoints her “a national leader in the fight against commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking networks which victimize and enslave poor and vulnerable women, girls, and boys.”

But when push comes to shove, it is Ms. Harris herself who is willing to sell out the victims of these terrible crimes and to endanger California’s neighborhoods in service of partisan politics. By misleading voters about Gov. Brown’s ballot initiative, the top law enforcement official in the state abandoned her duty to protect Californians and victims of violent crime for purely political purposes.

On the bright side, however, her unyielding adherence to the Democratic Party line has all but handed Kamala Harris a safe perch in the United States Senate. Mr. Brown endorsed her candidacy in May, and several other party heavyweights—including President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden—have thrown their support to Ms. Harris over her less partisan opponent, Loretta Sanchez. Even the California Democratic Party—of which both Ms. Sanchez and Ms. Harris are members—has taken sides, backing the attorney general.

Kamala Harris ought to be ashamed of herself for violating the trust of California voters. But when she moves into a cushy office at the U.S. Senate next spring, something tells me that no tears will be spilt over the victims she used to get there.

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