Kamala Harris Wants Us To Forget That Her Truancy Law Put Parents In Jail

Kamala Harris Wants Us To Forget That Her Truancy Law Put Parents In Jail

Everyone be quiet about those pesky real-life effects. Her intentions were pure, after all, so who cares if a few folks were thrown in jail?
Liz Wolfe
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The new media trend, other than shoving aside fawning Beto profiles in favor of folksy veteran Mayor Pete, seems to be naively implying that presidential contender and “woke prosecutor” Kamala Harris has atoned for her old law-and-order instincts and was never really that bad anyway. It would be great if she did indeed reverse course, but it’s silly to act as if she’s doing anything other than good old-fashioned pandering.

In fact, to celebrate Mother’s Day, Harris decided to float a revisionist story about her record on truancy crackdowns, pretending she didn’t spend years flagrantly supporting expanding laws that make it easier to hit parents with fines and jail time if their kids were caught skipping school. CNN’s Jake Tapper miraculously called her out but still didn’t press the issue nearly enough:

TAPPER: This truancy initiative is something that you have had to answer some questions about … which threatened prosecution for parents of students who miss too much school. You told a story in a 2010 speech…

HARRIS: Uh-huh.

TAPPER: … about a homeless single mother with three kids working two jobs. You said, under your truancy initiative, her children’s attendance improved. And you dismissed charges that you had filed against her.

HARRIS: Yes, that’s right.

TAPPER: Now, can you explain to people who are skeptical … why threatening her with jail time was the right way to handle that problem?

HARRIS: Well, it was more about getting her the services that she needs that she didn’t know was—that she needed and didn’t know was available. It was more about putting pressure on the school district to do its job.

I learned that over 80 percent of the prisoners in the United States are high school dropouts. I learned that a black man between the age of, I think it’s 20 and 25, if a high school dropout was two-thirds likely to be in jail, have been in jail or dead.

And so, looking at the issue, I realized that there is a very direct connection between the issue of truancy and who will end up in the criminal justice system.

So, the first thing we did is go to the school district and say, what are you doing to get these parents the support they need, to get their children to school every day? What are we doing as a community?

And it is because we put those resources into this initiative and put the spotlight that I was able to bring to it, frankly, we were able to improve attendance by over 30 percent. Not one parent was sent to jail.

TAPPER: Well, you pushed for a statewide law, right, a statewide truancy law. And people were thrown into jail under that law.

HARRIS: Not by me.

TAPPER: Not by you, but you supported the law.

HARRIS: I supported the law that—this is what I supported, and our initiative was that in the—and here’s—we’re going to get in the weeds, but give me the patience of time to explain it.

When I was looking at the issue of truancy, I realized that, when we define truancy, we defined it as three or four unexcused absences, you’re truant.

I was seeing kids that were missing up to 80 days of a 180-day school year. So, my point was, why isn’t the education code recognizing that?

What ended up happening is, by changing the education code, it also changed—it, by reference then, was in the penal code. And then that was an unintended consequence.

And if I could do it over again, I would have made sure that it would not have increased penalties or the ability to prosecute anywhere in the state to prosecute parents, because that was never the intention. And it was never anything that I did.

Guys, we shouldn’t hold her accountable because enabling the state to prosecute low-income parents was never Harris’s intention. This is how politicians are able to rewrite history and free themselves of responsibility for the very real, tangible harm they sometimes do—their intentions were so pure, so never mind real-life effects. They should clearly be let off the hook, most of all when their records are trotted out during a presidential run.

The Los Angeles Times has the background:

Harris took that advocacy statewide, sponsoring a 2010 law to make it a misdemeanor for parents whose young children miss more than 10% of school days a year without a valid excuse. Parents could be punished with a maximum $2,000 fine, up to a year in county jail or both. Violators of the law could defer judgment by participating in regular meetings with school officials and improving their children’s attendance. Harris and her allies have said the law’s purpose was to prod school districts to provide resources to families of truant children, not to lock up parents. But the Huffington Post reported that several counties in California arrested, charged and sometimes jailed parents under the law backed by Harris.

Reflecting on this, Harris told Pod Save America, “My regret is that I have now heard stories where, in some jurisdictions, DAs have criminalized the parents. And I regret that that has happened … And the thought that anything that I did could have led to that, because that certainly was not the intention—never was the intention.”

But what did Harris seriously expect to happen? In 2011, she made her perspective quite clear: “We are putting parents on notice … If you fail in your responsibility to your kids, we are going to work to make sure you face the full force and consequences of the law.”

So over the course of eight short years, Harris has gone from believing parents deserve the “full force and consequences of the law” to, essentially, “I was just trying to help them and didn’t expect anyone to get locked up”? If she’s this flighty and pandering on this topic, what else will she give on just to attempt to appease voters? Harris clearly feels comfortable using the levers of government power recklessly and foolishly, with little thought to how the lowest-income people can be hurt by her power trip.

Harris is obviously attempting to paint her record in a very different light, acting as if she wasn’t one of the primary forces pushing the state to lock up poor parents whose kids were skipping school. If she didn’t anticipate these unintended consequences and the danger of the state becoming increasingly intrusive in people’s lives, ready to jail people for even relatively minor offenses, then she’s criminally dumb.

But of course, Harris isn’t dumb. She’s playing the “Look, I can be woke, too” game, just as she did when she pretended she listened to Snoop Dogg and smoked weed in college (because, you know, she has family in Jamaica).

Liz Wolfe is a contributor at The Federalist, based in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter.

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