Kamala Harris slams Sessions on criminal justice

Kamala Harris slams Sessions on criminal justice
© Keren Carrion

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) slammed Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat House passes concealed carry gun bill Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week MORE for his tough-on-crime policies during an event early Tuesday focused on the rising rate of women in the nation’s prisons.

Harris, a key speaker at Women Unshackled, an event coordinated by the Justice Action Network, the Brennan Center for Justice and The Coalition for Public Safety, said America should be smart on crime instead of being tough or soft.

“The answer is not to build more prisons and the answer is certainly not to privatize those prisons,” she said as the audience erupted in cheers. “And the answer, Jeff Sessions, is not to return to relying on mandatory minimum sentences.”

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Sessions issued a memo in May directing federal prosecutors to “pursue the most serious, readily provable" offenses that by definition “carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimums."

The marching orders were a drastic shift from the orders former Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderFBI director defends agency after Trump attacks: It's an 'honor to represent you' FBI agents fire back at Trump: Saying we're not dedicated is 'simply false' Holder hits back at Trump: The FBI’s reputation is not in 'tatters' MORE issued in 2013 under President Obama that urged federal prosecutors to be more lenient with nonviolent, low-level drug offenders and reserve the harshest charges for violent criminals and the leaders of drug cartels.

As one of his first acts as attorney general, Sessions rescinded an Obama-era plan to phase out the federal government’s use of private prisons. Sessions sent a memo in February directing the Bureau of Prisons to continue to use private prisons.

Harris said on Tuesday that America needs to think about the way we’re treating women before, during and after incarceration.

Harris, along with Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Regulation: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court battle | Watchdog to investigate EPA chief's meeting with industry group | Ex-Volkswagen exec gets 7 years for emissions cheating Overnight Tech: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court fight | Warren backs bid to block AT&T, Time Warner merger | NC county refuses to pay ransom to hackers Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats turn on Al Franken Minnesota's largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign Democratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday MORE (D-Ill.), introduced legislation last week to reform the way women are treated behind bars.

In many prisons, Harris said, women lack basic hygiene or reproductive health, are subject to threats of sexual violence when supervised by male guards in bathrooms or showers, and are shackled while pregnant and, in some states, while giving birth.

“The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act will address some of these issues,” she said.

The bill bans the shackling of pregnant women, requires the Bureau of Prisons to create better visitation policies for parents, provide parenting classes, and offer health products like tampons and pads free of charge. The bill also restricts prison employees from entering restrooms of the opposite sex unless the there are pressing circumstances, among other things.

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