Mirkarimi vs. the conservatives

The sheriff candidate takes on criminal rehab issues, despite the critics

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EDITORIAL It's easy to forget why the race for San Francisco sheriff is so important. For 30 years, retiring Sheriff Mike Hennessey has done such a good job promoting progressive law-enforcement policies that the voters haven't had to think much about the office. But the race between Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, former police union leader Chris Cunnie and deputy sheriff Paul Miyamoto is critical — and there's no better evidence than the debate over recidivism.

More than 65 percent of the people incarcerated in San Francisco wind up reoffending after they're released. That's a huge number, something the city's been struggling with for years. Now Mirkarimi has a proposal to address that: He's suggesting a tax break to encourage businesses to hire ex-cons. And already, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, and Mirkarimi's two opponents have jumped on the idea, accusing him of being soft on crime, of coddling felons and putting "victimizers before victims."

For the record, we're not fond of tax breaks as a way of stimulating job creation. We opposed the payroll tax break for Twitter and we opposed the biotech tax break. We've never seen any credible evidence that giving one group of companies special treatment under the city's payroll tax actually encourages the creation of a single job.

But at least Mirkarimi is trying to address a problem that is only going to get worse. Under Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment, thousands of prisoners who would normally be sent to a state institution are going to wind up in the San Francisco jail system — and nearly all of them will ultimately be released, in the city.

If 65 percent of those people wind up committing another crime, that's more victims, more police work, more time and expense for the courts — and more prisoners to crowd the local jails. And one of the biggest factors in recidivism is the lack of employment opportunities.

In other words, putting ex-felons to work is a cheap and effective way to reduce the crime rate. Cunnie and Miyamoto, who have both spent their careers in the criminal justice system, ought to know that.

But instead of supporting Mirkarimi's approach — or even his overall goals — they've been taking a surprisingly right-wing line. Miyamoto announced that the proposal would "needlessly coddle at-risk individuals." Cunnie charged that "the supervisor's proposal puts victimizers before victims when it comes to incentivizing job creation."

Never mind that the federal government adopted a similar program under the administration of that notorious criminal coddler George W. Bush. Never mind that several states have followed suit. Never mind that this is anything but a radical idea. Never mind the logic: Two of the candidates for sheriff of one of the most liberal cities in America are talking like hard-core Republicans.

We prefer direct public spending and other approaches to job creation, but Mirkarimi's goal is entirely valid. The city ought to be putting resources into finding jobs for ex-offenders. And the fact that Mirkarimi is the only one talking about that shows had profoundly important this race is for the future of law-enforcement policy in San Francisco.

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