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Jamaican takes office as California's AG

Published:Wednesday | January 5, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Kamala Harris waves to the crowd during her inauguration as attorney general at the California Museum for History, Women and the Arts in Sacramento on Monday. She told hundreds of supporters that she would be tough on crime but also

KAMALA HARRIS, daughter of Jamaican professor and economist Donald Harris, took the oath of office as California's first female and first minority attorney general on Monday.

In her inauguration speech, Harris sought to make clear that she has been on the front lines of fighting crime.

"I have prosecuted sadistic criminals who have committed the most heinous, unspeakable acts against other people," she said. "I have spent hours poring over autopsy photographs."

During her remarks in the courtyard of the California Museum for Women, History and the Arts in Sacramento, the former San Francisco district attorney promised to vigorously prosecute violent criminals as the state's new attorney general.

She was also emphatic about helping criminals stop committing crimes and filling up overcrowded and expensive prisons. Harris wants to provide more drug rehabilitation, education and job training to people leaving lock-ups.

"We have accepted a fundamental misdiagnosis of the problem," she said. "We treat crime as a monolith with a one-size-fits-all solution instead of recognising that our approach in the overwhelming majority of non-violent offenders is failing badly."

Pioneer programme

Harris said she would like to start with non-violent women offenders, and to use a programme she pioneered in San Francisco.

"We must demand that our correctional system do less collecting and more correcting of prisoners," she said.

Harris's inauguration attracted a sizeable crowd that included many African Americans. Her father was a Stanford University economics professor from Jamaica, her mother a cancer researcher from India.

In her first speech as attorney general, Harris called herself the daughter of Brown v Board of Education - the historic US Supreme Court decision that struck down school segregation. She said she would model herself after the man who headed the court at the time - and who once served as both attorney general and governor of California - Earl Warren.

"Chief Justice Warren put it this way: 'Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile, I caught hell for'," Harris said as she laughed.

"So to my fellow Californians, I say in the coming four years, we are going to do whatever it takes and catch hell if necessary."

Kamala Harris waves to the crowd during her inauguration as attorney general at the California Museum for History, Women and the Arts in Sacramento on Monday. She told hundreds of supporters that she would be tough on crime but also "smart on crime" as an innovator. - ap