In her first signature legislative proposal as a U.S. senator representing California, Democrat Kamala Harris is offering states millions of dollars in grants if they abolish their “money bail” systems. Harris is Black.
The bill, introduced Thursday with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), is called “The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017.” It would authorize a three-year, $10 million grant to states that reform or replace pretrial release processes that lean heavily on arbitrary cash and deposit bonds as a means to ensure defendants return to court for trial. If successful, the grants could lead to a reduction in punitive bail practices that studies have shown historically and disproportionally disrupt the livelihoods of black and brown defendants.
“Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally,” Harris, who previously served as California attorney general, said in a statement released with the bill. “In our country, whether you stay in jail or not is wholly determined by whether you’re wealthy or not — and that’s wrong.”
States would become eligible for the grant if they replace their money bail system with “individualized, pretrial assessments with risk-based decision-making,” Harris’ statement said. These assessments — which often include court officials determining whether the defendant is a “flight risk” — must not result in practices that are racially discriminatory or unfair to any classification protected by federal law, according to the proposed guidelines. Overall, states must establish the presumption of pretrial release once a defendant has been reasonably evaluated for his or her risk to others in the community. [MORE]