Throughout the past few years, the city of San Francisco has become a focal point for criminal justice reform within the United States. With the election of former San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin in 2019 and his subsequent recall in 2022, “tumultuous” would be an accurate description of the city’s fluctuating viewpoints on this subject coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In late May, Berkeley Law announced that Boudin would serve as the executive director for the school’s new Criminal Law & Justice Center. This decision by campus sparked both commendation and controversy by the UC Berkeley and Bay Area community at large.
To provide a brief summary, Boudin was initially elected on progressive criminal justice reform platforms. His proposed initiatives included decarceration, eliminating cash bail, reevaluating wrongful convictions and severing connections between the district attorney’s office and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
While these policies were lauded by his voter base and both incarceration and violent crime rates decreased during his tenure in office, Boudin was ultimately replaced by current San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who contributed to the recall campaign.
First and foremost, we begin with support for the hiring of Chesa Boudin. Not all students agree with his progressive policies, nor are we advocating for adopting specific views in the wake of his hiring. However, he brings invaluable experience and a unique knowledge of the current issues facing the criminal justice system in California.
Criminal justice reform is a topic that hits close to home for the Berkeley community. For example, some of the furniture provided to California public schools was made by incarcerated individuals from the California Prison Industry. Additionally, UC Berkeley students maintain active involvement in programs such as the San Quentin News Editing Project and the Teach in Prison DeCal.
As such, many of the problems that we are attempting to address within the Berkeley community are issues that Boudin mitigated throughout his time as district attorney.
Finally, graduate students are capable of cultivating original stances of their own volition. Bringing in a faculty member does not mean that students will instantly bow to the whim of a single person’s philosophies. For example, Berkeley Law currently employs John Yoo, who authored many of the torture memos during George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” This by no means indicates that students within his classes agree with or support the torture memos.
If anything, taking classes from professors of differing opinions challenges students to defend or reconsider their stances, offering them a more nuanced understanding of these issues.
Hiring Chesa Boudin aims to broaden the dialogue surrounding criminal justice reform in the present day. To protest his employment or call for his removal only seeks to eliminate conversations necessary to understanding the ever-changing nature of policing and incarceration in the 21st century.