“Democratic up-and-comer Kamala Harris visited just about every corner of California during her successful 2016 campaign to take over Barbara Boxer’s seat in the US Senate, and she’s kept it up somewhat since taking office. But on a recent, sweltering July afternoon, I accompanied Harris to a place where no senator has set foot for at least a decade.
The Central California Women’s Facility, which houses nearly 3,000 inmates, is tucked amid the farmlands of Chowchilla, about three hours from San Francisco—where Harris was elected district attorney in 2003. The first black woman in that role, Harris was keenly attentive to iniquities in the prison system. Now, despite the near-daily scandals roiling Washington, criminal justice reform remains her top legislative priority—hence the field trip. “I like to go to the scene,” Harris tells me. “I like to go out there, I like to see it, I like to smell it, hear it, feel it so that I can get an intuitive sense, as well as a theoretical or intellectual sense, of what’s going on.””