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Harris Defends Criminal Justice Record During Iowa Town Hall

(CBS SF / CNN) -- Sen. Kamala Harris defended her California criminal justice record during CNN's town hall on Monday, rebutting some liberal criticism of her record by arguing that she had "been consistent my whole career."

The answer, which was succinct and direct, showed that Harris is not only aware of the criticism of her time as district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California, but is prepared to take it on.

"I've been consistent my whole career," she said in response to a question that asked her to address her "contradictory past."

"My career has been based on an understanding that, one, as a prosecutor, my duty was to seek and make sure that the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected."

She added, "I have also worked my whole career to reform the criminal justice system, understanding, to your point, that it is deeply flawed."

RELATED: Live updates: Kamala Harris takes questions at CNN town hall

The liberal pushback to Harris' record on crime was epitomized by a recent op-ed by University of San Francisco law professor Lara Bazelon, former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles.

"In her career, Ms. Harris did not barter or trade to get the support of more conservative law-and-order types; she gave it all away," Bazelon wrote.

Harris listed a litany of actions she took as attorney general, including:

  • Starting implicit bias and procedural justice training for police officers
  • Starting an open date initiative for her department
  • Requiring agents with her department to wear body cameras

Harris also outlined how she is "personally opposed to the death penalty," adding "that is not going to change." In addition to calling it a "flawed system," Harris said it is "cheaper to let people spend their life and end their life in jail." She did not mention that she had defended California's death penalty in court.

Harris went on to say there is still a lot of work to do on criminal justice, namely addressing mass incarceration, bail revisions and the disproportionate application of the criminal code, but stands by what she has done.

But in a nod to some decisions she made in the past to punish criminals, Harris said that those changes need to be balanced with the need to impose penalties on those who commit crimes.

"We all realize it is a deeply flawed system, but we also want to make sure that when a woman is raped, a child is molested, one human being is killed by another human being, there is going to be consequence, and serious consequence, for those crimes," she said.

Pressed by CNN's Jake Tapper on some of the pushback to her record, Harris said she would compare her record to that of any other elected prosecutor in the country and knows there are some people she can't win over.

"I will also say that there is so much more work to do," she said. "And do I wish I could have done more? Absolutely, I do wish I could have done more."

© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten. CNN contributed to this report.

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