In a career full of high-end failures, my failure back in 2000 to convince Terence “Kayo” Hallinan to trust Kamala Harris has to rank near the top. Then again, being seen as Hallinan's ally might have cost her the historic opportunity now at hand.
The day before Joe Biden anointed Kamala Harris as his running mate, the New York Times ran a front-page story reviewing her career as a prosecutor and her dealings with the police. The headline read “Is ‘Top Cop’ Now a Reformer? Wrestling with Harris’s Record.” The piece gave short shrift to Terence Hallinan's groundbreaking accomplishments, describing him as “one of the nation's most progressive DAs,” and crediting his successor for some of the reforms he instituted.
“Ms. Harris also created a ‘re-entry’ program called ‘Back on Track’ that aimed to keep young low-level offenders out of jail if they went to school and kept a job,” wrote Danny Hakim, Stephanie Saul and Richard A. Oppel, Jr. To re-enforce the claim that Kamala had created the program, they quote the police chief of East Palo Alto: ‘Re-entry was not a prevailing thought in law enforcement,’ he said. ‘She said this is a unique opportunity to reduce recidivism’.” For sure Kamala’s staff steered the Times to that police chief.
But according to Susan Breall, a veteran prosecutor who is now a San Francisco Superior Court judge, “Kamala’s ‘Back on Track’ program was an exact replica of Terence’s ‘Streets to School’ program. An exact replica.” This is how Terence described his program to an interviewer in 2001: “I make a deal with the small-time minor league drug offenders. If they go to school for two years, get a degree and get into an education system, then I will drop the charges against them. It has had a terrific success rate. The first 25 kids who went through it, 19 ended up in college. “
Breall had been hired by Arlo Smith, whom she had supported for re-election in '95; but she was impressed by Hallinan's emphasis on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. Top-notch young lawyers replaced the 14 right-wingers Hallinan fired when he took office. Soon the DA's office was operating a Drug Court, Community Courts (at which neighborhood residents decided how infractions should be dealt with), a Welfare Fraud Diversion Program (which “enables a recipient of benefits who has gotten a job to avoid a criminal conviction by entering into a repayment program through which they make restitution for the benefits they received unlawfully”).
“Before Terence,” Breall recalls, “nobody had ever heard of ‘a progressive district attorney.’ And no DA’s office that I know of had put significant resources into prosecuting domestic violence cases.” Hallinan's approach was to intervene early and make the perpetrator go to batterer's school for a year, get a restraining order and put the victim in control of the situation. Breall was made head of the Criminal Division for Crimes Against CORRECT TITLE TK
Hallinan created a “First Offender Prostitution Program” that punished patrons by making them pay (I recall it being $1,000) to attend “john school,” an eight-hour session of guilt-inducing talks by sex workers in a stuffy auditorium filled with hundreds of sullen men. “Seeing a different side of what they are doing discourages them,” Terence said of those in attendance. The FOPP had a 1% recidivism rate during his first term, and generated funds for a program that helped prostitutes get out of the life.
If we pull back the camera of history, all the “progressive” changes that Terence Hallinan instituted at the Hall of Justice seem trivial compared to the legalization of marijuana for medical use — a statewide reform he helped bring about in 1996 and that he worked to implement in San Francisco as DA. In '96 the AIDS epidemic had been raging for years, evidence of medical benefit was widespread, but no other high-ranking law enforcement official in the US came out in support of California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996. Kayo wasn't “one of the most,” he was the most progressive DA. And the first.
When we meet again I'll recount his efforts to get the new law implemented in San Francisco (against opposition from the police, the state medical board, and politicians in Sacramento and Washington, DC). I'll sign off with two memories of Kamala at the Hall of Justice.