Kamala Harris, Rand Paul back fixes to prison system, bail process
By Sophie Tatum
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, and Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, have found a bipartisan message in their push to reform how states implement pre-trial bail.
The two lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill Thursday that would change or replace the bail system using a $10 million grant over a three-year period.
The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017 would incentivize states to implement "individualized, pretrial assessments with risk-based decision making" and is supported by more than 30 criminal justice organizations," according to a news release about the bill.
"Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally," Harris was quoted saying in a news 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."
Criminal justice reform has been an area commonly mentioned by politicians for bipartisan compromise, but the bill faces an uphill climb in a chamber that is largely focused on passing Republicans' plans to repeal and replace Obamacare. CNN reached out to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office as well as judiciary committee chairman Chuck Grassley about the proposal and have not yet gotten a response.
The lawmakers wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about the issue Thursday, where they shared the story of Kalief Browder.
Browder, according to The Times, was a 16-year-old who was arrested on charges of stealing a backpack. The charges were later dismissed, but not before he sat in jail for three years because he couldn't afford to make the $3,000 bail. He later hanged 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," The op-ed reads.
"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," Paul said in a statement.
This bill's introduction comes a week after the introduction of The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act.
Last week, Harris -- along with Democratic Sens. Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Dick Durbin -- introduced the piece of legislation that would significantly change the way imprisoned women are treated.
"Incarcerated women face unique challenges and therefore deserve specific protections while they serve out their sentences," Durbin said in a written statement to CNN Thursday. "I have long pushed for an end to solitary confinement and shackling of pregnant women. These practices are severe and lead to serious, long-lasting harm. I'm proud to see these measures included in the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act and will continue working with my colleagues to enact smart, fair reforms to our justice system."
This bill, if passed, would ban shackling pregnant women, require the location of inmate's children be taken into account when placing the individual in a prison facility and require the Bureau of Prisons to provide free feminine hygiene products, such as tampons, to inmates.
It would also offer additional support programs for individuals.
"Somebody commits a serious and violent offense, there is no question they need to be held accountable and there must be severe, swift, and certain consequence," Harris said while speaking at the "Women Unshackled" conference earlier this week in Washington.
"That being said, we also know that right now, there are women in prison facilities, in jail facilities, that don't support -- those facilities don't support basic hygiene or reproductive health. And that's wrong. Right now, there are incarcerated women subjected to the threat of sexual violence, when they are being supervised by male guards in the bathroom or shower. That's wrong. Right now, there are women who are shackled while they are pregnant and in some states, while they give birth. That's wrong."
CNN's Laura Jarrett contributed to this report.
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