Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) says she regrets a controversial truancy law she championed that had some parents jailed while she was California’s attorney general.
Appearing on the podcast “Pod Save America” on Wednesday, Harris said the law was “never intended” to criminalize parents for their kids’ chronic truancy, though she admits it had “unintended consequences.”
“My regret is that I have now heard stories where in some jurisdictions, DAs have criminalized the parents,” said Harris, 54, who announced her run for president earlier this year. “And I regret that that has happened.”
Though no parents were arrested/jailed during her time as San Francisco’s district attorney, an additional measure made it a misdemeanor for parents whose children missed more than 10 percent of school days a year with no excuse. As if a maximum $2,000 fine weren’t enough, parents of truant kids could also be punished with time in the county jail.
Harris made it clear she had “no control” over the arrests of parents in other jurisdictions, although there were parents who were incarcerated after she became California attorney general in 2010.
A resurfaced video from a speech Harris made that same year showed the former AG chuckling as she discussed getting tough on truancy and using what she called the “huge stick” of law enforcement as a threat to make sure parents got their kids in school.
“‘If you don’t go to school, Kamala is going to put you and me in jail!’” Harris said, recalling a friend’s reaction to her efforts to address the issue. “Yes! We achieved the intended effect.”
Since announcing her presidential bid in February, Harris’ prosecutorial record has come under intense scrutiny. A Loyola Law School professor penned a scathing op-ed for The New York Times earlier this year accusing the former AG of “fighting tooth and nail” to uphold wrongful convictions via misconduct including ” evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.”
Her hard-line approach on criminal justice has also left critics to wonder how she’ll handle criminal justice reform if elected to the highest office in the land.
In Wednesday’s interview, Harris defended the laws she helped pass to address habitual truancy among schoolchildren, saying her concern at the time was making sure students were in the classrooms learning instead of out on the street.
“My concern was if we don’t take seriously the need that we as a society should have to ensure that our children are receiving the benefit of an education, we will pay the price later,” she said. “And those kids will pay the price.”
Though the anti-truancy measure resulted in a 30 percent boost in school attendance, the Democratic hopeful said she wouldn’t support a measure similar to the controversial California 2011 law as president.