Watch: Senators from the right and the left come together for criminal justice reform

Watch: Senators from the right and the left come together for criminal justice reform
Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are working together to reform the criminal justice system. They are proposing a drastic change in the current bail structure. (Image source: CNN video screenshot)

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced bipartisan legislation to reform the criminal justice system. Their bill, the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017, authorizes a $10 million grant over a three-year period for states and American Indian tribes who replace or reform the practice of bail.

According to the senators, the current system disproportionately favors the wealthy. If two people — one from a lower middle-class background and another from an upper-class background — commit the same crime and they have the same bail amount, the wealthier person would be released until their trial simply based on their ability to pay their bail.

Under the bill, states would need to conduct a pretrial assessment to determine the suspect’s flight risk and the likelihood of failing to appear at trial. In general, states would also be required to partake in “presumptive releases,” meaning every person is released unless their release endangers the safety of others or they would fail to appear in court.

The bill also authorizes an additional $5 million 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 over the next three years.

According to Paul and Harris, the bill is designed with poor people in mind.

“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 senators wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “As criminal justice groups work to change sentencing and mandatory minimum laws, we must also reform a bail system that is discriminatory and wasteful.”

During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, the senators explained why their bill was important and why criminal justice reform is one of their priorities.

“What we have to understand about the criminal justice policy is that crime is not a monolith. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach to criminal justice policy,” Harris explained. “And so on the issue of bail reform — and the work that Rand and I are doing together — it’s about recognizing that, for some of the lowest level offenses, nonviolent offenses, the only difference between someone being in jail pretrial or being out is if they can afford to write a check.”

“What I think it needs to be is to be individualized. I’m not telling a judge they can’t have bail. In fact, I think there should be some people in jail with no bail. But it needs to be individualized,” Paul told Tapper. “We need to look at each individual situation.”

The bill is currently endorsed by more than 40 organizations, including the Pretrial Justice Institute, Center for American Progress, NAACP, SEIU, ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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