Ross_Mirkarimi.jpgA proposal by San Francisco Supervisor and candidate for sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to offer a tax break for companies that hire ex-felons has brought sharp criticism from his opponents in the race to replace outgoing Sheriff Michael Hennessey.

Mirkarimi, who is running against three current and former sheriff’s department employees–Chris Cunnie, Paul Miyamoto and David Wong — introduced the legislation at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

The proposal would offer a $10,000 tax break on a San Francisco employer’s total payroll tax bill for every ex-felon that they hire, a move Mirkarimi said would help a group of people “having a hard time getting and keeping work.”

He said the legislation could help reduce San Francisco’s number of repeat offenders that clog up the justice system. For every four people arrested in the city, three are repeat offenders within three years, he said.

But Cunnie, who served as undersheriff for Hennessey and most recently as an advisor to Attorney General Kamala Harris, said in a statement Wednesday that Mirkarimi’s proposal “is a total misunderstanding of how rehabilitation can and should work.”

Under Mirkarimi’s proposal, “an ex-offender leaving prison for domestic abuse now has a job preference that a domestic violence victim does not have,” Cunnie said.

“I believe we help ex-offenders by helping them take responsibility for their actions, make restitution to their victims and take the steps necessary to gain education, job skills and sobriety,” he said.

Miyamoto, a sheriff’s captain who has been with the department for 15 years, also criticized the proposal, which he said “is not fair treatment but special treatment.”

He said Mirkarimi’s legislation is “unfair to hard-working, law-abiding residents of San Francisco and would needlessly coddle at-risk individuals to whom we in the department are trying to teach more responsible behavior.”

The upcoming election, one that will decide the city’s first new sheriff in 32 years, also comes a month after recent state legislation went into effect regarding the realignment of certain inmates from state to county jurisdiction, which will greatly impact the sheriff’s department.

Under the new law, which went into effect on Oct. 1, people convicted in San Francisco of nonviolent, non-serious offenses–as well as adult parolees and juvenile offenders–will now be overseen by the county, an estimated additional load of up to 700 offenders.

City officials say California is providing between 33 and 50 percent less money for realignment than they were paying to incarcerate and supervise the offenders.

On his campaign website, Mirkarimi says he would “advocate relentlessly for funding, as promised by the state.”

Cunnie, a former police officer who has also served as the head of the city’s Department of Emergency Communications, said he has the experience on both the local and state level to best handle the realignment process as sheriff.

Miyamoto has touted his long tenure with the sheriff’s department makes him the best candidate to handle the transition.

He said on his website that “this department needs experience not politics” and said his experience would make him “ready to serve on day one.”

Miyamoto has been endorsed by four city supervisors and the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association, while Cunnie has been endorsed by Harris, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and five city supervisors.

Mirkarimi received Hennessey’s endorsement as well as support from several state and city officials.

Wong, the former president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs Association, is running despite being fired in May of this year for allegedly striking a handcuffed female inmate, sheriff’s spokeswoman Eileen Hirst said.

Wong also ran for sheriff in 2007 as the only challenger to Hennessey, who won with more than 73 percent of the vote.

On his website, Wong said his 20 years of experience in the department and service in the U.S. Army make him the right candidate for sheriff.

He said he supports modernizing the county jail system, including creating an online inmate locator and automated phone line for families and friends of people in jail.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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