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Ousted SF DA Chesa Boudin to Lead New UC Berkeley Criminal Justice Program

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A young white man with a beard stands in a blue suit outside a gray building
Former District Attorney Chesa Boudin is seen outside the Hall of Justice in San Francisco on Dec. 30, 2020. (Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s controversial former top prosecutor, announced Wednesday he will not run for his old job, choosing instead to serve as executive director of a new criminal law research and advocacy center at UC Berkeley’s law school.

“It really brings together my practical experience as a public defender, as an elected prosecutor, and my lived experience visiting my biological parents in prison my entire life for a combined 62 years,” Boudin told KQED, of the new Criminal Law and Justice Center he will lead. “So much of legal teaching and even lawmaking in our Capitol is really divorced from real-world experience.”

Boudin was ousted as district attorney last year in a divisive recall election, driven by critics who said his progressive attitude toward crime was making the city less safe. He was replaced by Brooke Jenkins, who promised more consequences for criminal defendants. Boudin said he learned that one elected official can’t solve San Francisco’s problems on their own.

“We had a mayor and a police department that were unwilling to work with our office in the midst of the COVID pandemic. That made it extremely difficult for us,” said Boudin. “I think what we’re seeing in San Francisco right now is that there continues to not be a government response that’s coordinated.”

Boudin said his brief stint as district attorney demonstrated that winning elections isn’t enough to solve the deeply embedded problems that lead to crime and mass incarceration.

“We need to do the longer-term work, the institution building, the infrastructure building to ensure that no matter who wins a particular office, there’s the political space to follow the science and the data to implement best practices rather than following polls or viral tweets,” he said.

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Boudin’s parents were leftist radicals who spent decades in prison for their role in a botched 1981 heist of a Brink’s armored truck. Kathy Boudin died last year, soon after David Gilbert was granted parole.

Boudin said in an op-ed published in The San Francisco Chronicle Wednesday that his new job “is still consistent with my lifelong commitment to fixing the criminal legal system, ending mass incarceration, and innovating data-driven solutions to public safety challenges.”

He said UC Berkeley’s new criminal justice center will evaluate the outcomes of specific policies and communicate to the public what is needed to make communities safe.

“We now clearly have two different systems of justice — one for police and security guards who are above the law, who can shoot and kill with impunity, and a different system for everybody else,” Boudin said. “It’s not making us safer and it’s doing tremendous damage to the integrity of the justice system.”

This story includes reporting from KQED’s Riley Palmer and The Associated Press.

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