Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast first reported the issue in February 2019, when lawyers for the California attorney general’s office argued that some non-violent offenders ought to remain in jail – lest the prison system would be deprived of a cheap labor force.
The arguments follow the 2011 Supreme Court Brown v. Plata decision stating California prisons had serious overcrowding problems that they violated the Eighth Amendment prohibiting “cruel and unusual punishment.” The state was ordered in 2014 to make non-violent second-time offenders who have served half of their prison sentence eligible for parole; Harris served as the state’s attorney general during that time.
Based on court filings, lawyers argued that granting certain potential parolees a “faster track out of prison” would negatively affect penal labor programs – including one that permitted certain inmates to fight California’s wildfires for about $2 a day. Other prisoners who worked as groundskeepers, janitors and prison kitchen staff for wages ranging from 8 cents to 37 cents per hour would also be affected by the move. (Related: Kamala Harris accused of keeping blacks jailed to provide “slave wage labor” to the state of California.)
Aside from keeping prisoners in jail to maintain the state’s penal labor force, Harris oversaw more than 1,500 convictions related to marijuana, even reaching almost 2,000, during her tenure as San Francisco district attorney.
During her stint as San Francisco district attorney, Harris, who was known as a “progressive prosecutor”, had a role in the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of Jamal Trulove in 2007.
Trulove received a 50 year- to life prison sentence after his friend was found with gunshot wounds on his head. One witness's testimony convinced prosecutors working under Harris of Trulove’s guilt despite his lack of a physical link to the crime. For her efforts, Harris rewarded the witness who pointed out Trulove with more than $60,000 in housing and relocation benefits.
A 2015 retrial found that law enforcement officers had wrongfully framed him, and he subsequently received a $13 million settlement from the city.
Trulove told VICE during a recent interview that Harris was present at the hearings of the case and even announced both the verdict and sentencing. In one instance, she allegedly locked eyes briefly with him and seemed to smirk. “She wanted to be present for a celebration of a conviction," Trulove remarked.
Even though Harris was not the one personally in charge of his case, Trulove said just seeing her name on the documents unnerved him.
It is worth noting that Harris’ stance on marijuana has softened compared to her days as district attorney when she racked up more than 1,500 marijuana convictions. She even admitted to “smoking a joint” during a February 2019 radio interview in The Breakfast Club on New York’s 105.1 FM
She expressed a strong belief towards marijuana legalization and even called to look at the “impact of weed on a developing brain.”
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, her fellow Democrat, noticed this sudden 180-degree turn.
Gabbard pointed this out during the Democratic Party debates in August 2019 alongside other accusations over her prosecutorial record: “She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prisons beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California. She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.”
A victory for Biden and Harris is definitely a cause for concern: With criticism towards her amounting to “racism” and “sexism,” it’s possible that any of her critics might end up like Jamal Trulove or the other prisoners she refuses to parole.
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