The Washington Free Beacon's finding that Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) had locked up at least 1,560 people for marijuana-related offenses while she was California's attorney general was off, according to California's Department of Corrections, which now says at least 1,974 were admitted to prison under Harris.
The February report came under renewed scrutiny after it was cited by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii) in an attack on Harris during Wednesday night's Democratic primary debate. The Harris campaign responded by labeling the statistic a "lie," but a fact check by the San Francisco Chronicle found that even more people were put in prison for marijuana-related offenses than initially estimated.
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"The [Free Beacon article] cited statistics from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that said ‘at least 1,560 people were sent to state prisons for marijuana-related offenses between 2011 and 2016' during the time Harris was the state AG," wrote the Chronicle's Joe Garofoli. "On Thursday, a department spokesman told the Chronicle that 1,974 people were admitted for hashish and marijuana convictions during that period."
The Free Beacon's original estimates, based on reports from the California Department of Corrections, counted all new admissions to California prisons for marijuana-related offenses, including sale, possession for sale, and "other." (Since the Free Beacon‘s report, those records have been removed from the CDCR's website.)
As previously reported, even the revised total from the state is likely an undercount. Under California's public safety realignment initiative, many low-level, non-violent drug offenders would have been rerouted to state jails. This means that while they may have been prosecuted, they would not appear in state prison admissions totals.
Free Beacon data expert Charles Fain Lehman, asked about his undercount of individuals locked up by Harris, was surprised by the new figure from the California agency.
"Huh," Lehman said. "Either they have data I don't, or they're counting parole violators (who I omitted as people not prosecuted by Harris's office), or they might be counting hashish violations, which I didn't."
"Still, good to know it's even worse than we thought," he said.
Gabbard during the debate hit Harris for laughing about her own marijuana use just years after she was prosecuting Californians for theirs.
"Now Senator Harris says she's proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she'll be a prosecutor president, but I'm deeply concerned about this record," Gabbard said. "There are too many examples to cite but 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."
One New York Times columnist described it as the "sharpest attack of the night."