Harris, Paul seek to change bail system to help poor

Harris, Paul seek to change bail system to help poor
© Keren Carrion

Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump McCain: Trump plays into 'Putin's hands' by attacking Montenegro, questioning NATO obligations MORE (R-Ky.) are teaming up to reform and replace the country’s criminal bail system.

The unlikely duo announced the introduction of the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act in an op-ed they co-wrote for The New York Times on Thursday. The legislation aims to encourage states to reform or replace their practice of having people put up money for bail, which requires individuals awaiting trial to remain in jail unless they pay for their release.

The two senators argue that requiring people to pay bail to get out of jail penalizes the poor.

“Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally. Yet that doesn’t happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail,” they wrote.

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“Whether someone stays in jail or not is far too often determined by wealth or social connections, even though just a few days behind bars can cost people their job, home, custody of their children — or their life.”

The legislation authorizes $10 million in Department of Justice grants over a three-year period to incentivize states to replace their money bail systems with individualized, pretrial assessments and release individuals who do not pose a flight risk or a danger to others in the community.

States that receive funding would be required to produce annual reports on their progress and ensure reforms like risk assessments are not discriminatory through analyses of trends and data.

Another $5 million will be allotted over the three years for the Bureau of Justice Statistics to implement a National Pretrial Reporting Program, which provides for data collection on the processing of defendants in state and municipal courts.

In their piece, Harris and Paul highlighted the case of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old from New York who was arrested on charges of stealing a backpack in 2010. Unable to post his $3,000 bail, he was held for three years — including nearly two years in solitary confinement — at Rikers Island before his charges were dismissed. Haunted by the experience, Harris and Paul said, Browder committed suicide in 2015.