Senator Kamala Harris is leading the charge to bring major reform to the country’s multi-billion dollar prison system.
The first-term California Democrat introduced a bipartisan bill Thursday, alongside Republican Sen. Rand Paul, that would reform how states enforce bail. The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017 would incentivize states to rework their bail system using a $10 million grant over three years.
“Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally,” Harris said in a press release. “Yet more than 450,000 Americans sit in jail today awaiting trial and many of them cannot afford 'money bail.' In our country, whether you stay in jail or not is wholly determined by whether you're wealthy or not — and that's wrong.”
Both Harris and Paul, citing the story of Kalief Browder, co-wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about the issue Thursday. Browder’s story of being held in jail for three years because he could not afford his $3000 bail has become a key story in reform efforts surrounding the criminal justice reform. Browder later hang himself.
“Excessive bail disproportionately harms people from low-income communities and communities of color. The Supreme Court ruled in Bearden v. Georgia in 1983 that the Constitution prohibits 'punishing a person for his poverty,' but that's exactly what this does. Nine out of 10 defendants who are detained cannot afford to post bail, which can exceed $20,000 even for minor crimes like stealing $105 in clothing,” they wrote.
This is not the only such bill that Harris is tackling. She co-introduced a new bill last week, The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, that reforms that way women in prison are treated. She is working with Democratic Sens. Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Dick Durbin.