More Than 120,000 Californians of Color Sent to Prison on Harris's Watch

Huge racial disparities bely Senator's pro-racial-justice message

Sen. Kamala Harris / Getty Images
March 19, 2019

While serving as California's top cop, Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) oversaw the incarceration of at least 127,000 Black and Hispanic Californians, data obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show.

These data, based on reports from and a request to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), almost certainly undercount the total number of individuals who were sent to prison while Harris served as state attorney general. Still, they reveal that at least 44,172 black offenders and 83,370 Hispanic offenders were newly admitted to California's prisons between 2011 and 2016, compared to 48,761 whites and 11,182 "other"-identified individuals.

Percentage-wise, these figures translate into 23.6 percent of new incarcerees being black and 44.5 percent being Hispanic. By way of comparison, as of July 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 39.1 percent of Californians were Hispanic/Latino and just 6.5 percent were black or African American.

In other words, there is a profound racial disparity between the group sent to prison and California as a whole: the sort of disparity Harris's ideological peers routinely decry as racist.

In her ongoing campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2020, Harris has cast herself as a progressive on issues of racial justice and equity. She has claimed to have worked to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system, labeled president Donald Trump a racist, and even publicly supported reparations for slavery.

But the left wing of the Democratic Party has had little patience for these gestures, attacking Harris for her record as a tough-on-crime prosecutor when she was state attorney general. This view is not helped by recent flip-flops, including Harris's opportunistic-seeming reversals on legalizing prostitution and marijuana.

The enormous number of Californians sent to state prisons while Harris was attorney general—many of whom were prosecuted by either her office or the office of an inferior state attorney who reported to her—indicates that the senator's racial-progressive veneer may be as thin as her critics argue.

To determine the figures reported above, the Washington Free Beacon counted the total number of new admissions (as opposed to returning parole violators) to the CDCR-administered penitentiary system between 2011 and 2016. These data were obtained from the now-discontinued "Characteristics of New Admissions" report series, as well as a request to the CDCR itself.

Previous analysis based on the same data by the Washington Free Beacon found that Harris—now a supporter of marijuana legalization—sent at least 1,500 Californians to prison for marijuana-related offenses. The racial composition of this group was not available.

The race figures above almost certainly undercount the total number of offenders sent to prison on Harris's watch. In 2011, following a federal court's finding that California's prisons were dangerously overcrowded, the state implemented "Public Safety Realignment," a program which filtered "low-level" offenders into county jails.

The number and race of individuals who would have been incarcerated at the state level, but were instead routed to jails, was not available from CDCR. It is therefore not clear how these added figures would impact the racial make-up of those sent to prison under Harris.

Harris's campaign did not return a request for comment.