SACRAMENTO (CN) – At her inauguration Monday, California’s new Attorney General Kamala Harris promised to “catch hell if necessary” as she fought for civil rights, prison reform, tough enforcement of environmental and consumer protection laws, and to continue her predecessor’s support for legalization of gay marriage. Harris is California’s first woman and first African-American attorney general.
Harris was in Monday as her predecessor Jerry Brown took office as governor.
“We are going to fight for the civil rights of every Californian to worship as you choose, to live and work where you choose and to marry who you love,” Harris said.
Hundreds of guests and politicians packed the courtyard of the California Museum for History, Women and the Arts to see Harris sworn in.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye administered the oath of office, having been inaugurated herself just last month.
In a hard-fought election pitting the state’s Democratic north against its Republican south, Harris, a former two-term San Francisco district attorney, defeated Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley by a slim margin.
Harris, 46, pledged to fight for civil rights, to reform the prison system to reduce recidivism, curtail gang violence and truancy, and to vigorously enforce environmental and consumer protection laws.
“In the coming four years we are going to do whatever it takes, and catch hell if necessary, in the course of protecting the lives and livelihoods of all Californians,” Harris said.
“Being tough and smart means recognizing that we have an imbalance in our justice system. … It’s time to recognize the need for some drastic changes.”
Harris said California has some of the severest sentencing laws in the nation but one of worst recidivism rates: 70 percent for nonviolent offenders.
“Prison amounts to attending crime college,” she said, where prisoners learn to “become better and more hardened criminals.”
She criticized the state’s perpetuation of “a system that recycles prisoners” that is “not tough on crime, but tough on taxpayers.” She promised her office would focus on “more preventing and less reacting” with increased police presence on the streets and collaboration with local law enforcement. She said she would start with rehabilitating the female prison population, 60 percent of whom incarcerated for nonviolent crimes.
Harris also promised to be tougher on cyber crime and mortgage fraud by imposing harsher penalties for offenders. “Greed and dishonesty should not and will not pay in the Golden State,” she said.