2010 Video Shows Kamala Harris Defending Her Policy To Jail Parents Of Truant Students As District Attorney

Eight years ago, Harris served as San Francisco's district attorney.

Kamala Harris
Photo Credit: Twitter

| January 29 2019,

5:32 pm

As Sen. Kamala Harris moves to the front of a full Democratic field for president, a damning video from 2010 has resurfaced showing the then-district attorney defending her crackdowns on truancy.

Critics questioned Harris' career as a prosecutor over the past two weeks since Harris announced her bid for president on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Before becoming the first Indian to serve in the Senate, she served as San Francisco's district attorney and later became the first Black woman to serve as attorney general in California.

In the 2010 video via journalist Walker Bragman, members of the Commonwealth Club watched as Harris seemingly brags about her office's approach to truancy. She said her office worked in tandem with the San Francisco Unified School District to increase student attendance. 

Many of Harris' staff pushed back against a policy that threatened parents of truant students with arrest, but she encouraged them to follow her lead on this. 

"I would not be standing here were it not for the education I received," Harris says in the video. "Many of you would not be."

"I believe a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime. So I decided I was going to start prosecuting parents for truancy. Well, this was a little controversial in San Francisco," Harris adds in the video before laughing. 

For two years, the Howard University alumna reportedly sent home letters to families in the city warning of severe consequences for truancy.  

The San Francisco Gate reports truancy lowered by 23 percent between 2008 and 2009, a downward trend that dated back three years. Harris' policy took effect in 2007. There was a connection between the high number of homicides and truancy in the city, which Harris noted in announcing her policy. About 94 percent of homicide victims aged 25 and younger were high school dropouts, the 2009 report said. After her law took effect, 20 parents faced charges for truant children. One parent whose children missed a total of over 100 days of schools was jailed for 180 days in 2012 as a result of the policy. 

However, her method of threatening parents with arrests sparked a backlash that continues today. Critics cite data stating many of those targeted tend to be poor, people of color and unable to represent themselves adequately in the justice system. A 2010 bill supported by Harris could put parents behind bars up to a year if their child were found truant. 

Walker also shared a video where the 54-year-old recalled a time in which she threatened to arrest a homeless woman because of truant children. Through this threat, however, the woman working two jobs was given the proper help she needed to improve her life and her children's. 

Harris recognized her approach was tough but stood by the decision at the time.

"If it takes me being the bad guy by highlighting the connection -- by saying I'll prosecute parents for truancy -- I'll do it," she reportedly said in 2009. 

The Guardian notes in a lengthy piece about Harris' record that she did not stop there. In other instances, while serving as California's AG, she reportedly prevented the release of non-violent offenders to maintain adequate prison levels for labor.  

Blavity reported previously the former prosecutor confronted the allegations of facilitating the school-to-prison pipeline in her first speech as a Democratic candidate for president. 

“I can tell you of the cases where I really regret that we were not able to charge somebody that molested a child but the evidence wasn’t there," Harris said on the MLK holiday.

"There are cases ... where there were folks who made a decision in my office who did not consult with me and I wish they had. But again, I take full responsibility for those decisions.”

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