Flashback: In California, Kamala Harris pushed law that threw parents in jail if kids were truant

Program began in San Francisco before going statewide.

Updated: August 13, 2020 - 6:03pm

While a state-level official in California years ago, presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris championed a series of policies that threatened parents with jail time if their kids missed too much school, with several parents eventually ending up in jail under a statewide statute. 

Harris first proposed a local initiative during her 2004-2011 tenure as San Francisco District Attorney. "Parents who are continually reluctant to send their children to school are subject to fine or imprisonment," Harris's office said in an informational brochure on the policy.

A subsequent state-level truancy law sponsored by Harris was passed in 2010. That law threatened parents with $2,000 in fines and up to a year imprisonment if their child was a "chronic truant."

In her inaugural address as California Attorney General a year later, Harris said the state was "putting parents on notice. If you fail in your responsibility to your kids, we are going to work to make sure you face the full force and consequences of the law."

That law resulted in numerous parents being sentenced to jail stretches, including one mother who was jailed for six months under the law.

Harris, meanwhile, has since claimed that the jailing of parents was an "unintended consequence" of the state law, though the jail provisions were intrinsic features of both the original San Francisco policy and the subsequent statewide law. 

Criminalizing parents of truant children "certainly was not the intention — never was the intention," Harris said lat year.

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