At that point, Kamala Harris had been the state’s attorney general for just over four months, representing California as its top legal officer. But the Supreme Court ruling would have to be enacted on her watch. Every six months, the state would have to show it had decreased its prison population in compliance with a threshold overseen by a three-judge district court panel: 167 percent of capacity by the end of 2011, 155 percent by June 2012, finally arriving at the target level of 137.5 percent by June 2013.
It soon became clear that the state would hold out on complying with the judicial order. 2011 passed with little progress made on the decarceration mandate, and by 2012, a report surfaced that proved the state actually intended to increase its prison population. In May of that year, Harris’s office “confirmed their intent not to comply with the Order but instead to seek its modification from 137.5 percent design capacity to 145 percent,” a modification that was not permitted. The deadline for compliance was eventually extended to the end of 2013.
By April 2013, just two months from the initial deadline given in that Supreme Court decision, California still had 9,636 prisoners more than the court-imposed ceiling. The state submitted a proposal that involved relocating inmates to fire camps to fight wildfires, and preventing out-of-state prisoners from being returned. But upon review, the three-judge panel found that that still left California’s prisons some 4,170 prisoners over the hard limit. -- But Gov. Brown, with Harris as his defense lawyer, did not agree. Harris’s office launched into a campaign of all-out obstruction, refusing to answer why they could not simply release low-risk, nonviolent inmates to conform to the Supreme Court’s request. “Defendants offered no explanation, however, why they could not release low-risk prisoners early,” the June 2013 ruling stated -- This era of Harris’s tenure as attorney general escaped the recent close re-examination of some of the higher-profile cases in her prosecutorial past. During her brief presidential run, a memo from the tail end of this battle resurfaced; in late 2014, lawyers from her office claimed that nonviolent offenders needed to stay incarcerated, lest they lose bodies for fire camps in the wildfire-plagued state, as Jackie Kucinich of the Daily Beast reported.
Harris was quick to disavow the memo, claiming she had no knowledge of it and telling BuzzFeed News she was “shocked” by the argument. But it squares firmly with the sort of arguments her office was putting forward for multiple years preceding it. Harris, meanwhile, was known to run an extremely centralized attorney general’s office, with few things coming in or going out without her express sign-off.