Sens. Kamala Harris, Rand Paul Launch Attempt To Reform Cash Bail

United States Senator Kamala Harris (Democrat of California) questions nominees for security positions in various United States Government agencies before the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on ... United States Senator Kamala Harris (Democrat of California) questions nominees for security positions in various United States Government agencies before the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. Credit: Ron Sachs / CNP - NO WIRE SERVICE - Photo by: Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images MORE LESS
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July 20, 2017 1:55 p.m.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), joined by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), introduced a bill Thursday that would incentivize states to replace the use of money bail as a condition of pretrial release in criminal cases.

The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act would seek to incentivize states to replace cash bail — that is, defendants putting up money for their release from jail before trial — with “individualized, pretrial assessments” that would allow accused individuals who do not pose a risk of flight or criminal conduct to be released from custody.

In a joint op-ed in the New York Times coordinated with the bill’s release Thursday, Harris and Paul noted that “[a]ny state receiving support must report on its progress and make sure that reforms like risk assessments are not discriminatory through analyses of trends and data.” Current cash bail policies in many states, they wrote, disproportionately affect low-income people of color and are “discriminatory and wasteful.”

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The op-ed opened with the story of Kalief Browder, the 16-year-old New Yorker charged with stealing a backback who committed suicide after years awaiting trial in New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail, because his family could not afford his bail.

The law would allow the Justice Department to make grants — a maximum of $6,500,000 to state and tribal courts and $3,500,000 to other entities per year — “to perform more effective pretrial practices that include system analysis, training and technical assistance, meeting facilitation, research and performance evaluation, information technology reprogramming.”

The issue of cash bail has received a swell of attention in recent months, most recently in a Mother’s Day drive coordinated by several community bail and criminal justice groups, dubbed “National Mama’s Bail Out Day.”

Harris and Paul’s bill lays out a series of benchmarks for state and tribal court systems accepting federal grants, including: “[d]efendants return to court rates are not less than 95 percent,” “[n]ot more than 10 percent of defendants are rearrested pending trial” and “[o]verall release rates of defendants pending trial are not less than 85 percent.”

“Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally,” Harris said in a statement Thursday. “Yet more than 450,000 Americans sit in jail today awaiting trial and many of them cannot afford ‘money bail.'”

Paul added: “Americans should be able to expect fair and equal treatment under the law regardless of how much money is in their pockets or how many connections they have.”

Read The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act legislative text below:

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