Court Battles

Kamala Harris slams Sessions on criminal justice

Keren Carrion

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) slammed Attorney General Jeff Sessions 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.”

{mosads}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 Holder 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As one of his first acts as attorney general, Sessions rescinded an Obama-era plan to phase out the federal government’s use of private prisons.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 Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Dick Durbin (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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