Kamala Harris and Rand Paul Spearhead Senate Bail Reform Effort

Press Release July 19, 2017
Media Contact

<h2 class="subtitle">
<p>Tony Newman 646-335-5384<br />
Michael Collins 404-539-6437</p>

Today, Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation to reform the country’s money bail system. The proposal – the first of its kind in the U.S. Senate – would provide grants to states to reform their bail system.

“We have a mass incarceration problem in this country, and it starts with our broken bail system,” said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “There are people held in jail without trial because they do not have the financial means to post bail. Many are charged with drug offenses, and are casualties of the racist war on drugs.”

The Harris-Paul bill would provide funds for states to replace money bail with pretrial assessments, provide for the presumption of release, ensure counsel, and guarantee a speedy trial for defendants.

Currently, around 60 percent of individuals in jail in the U.S. are pretrial detainees who have not been convicted of any crime. Such a system contradicts the ethos of “innocent until proven guilty,” and has an adverse impact on low-income families and communities of color. While some states have taken steps to reform their criminal justice system, more needs to be done.

Recently, New Jersey’s historic bail reform law has been the focus of national attention as other states grapple with reforming their broken bail systems. The Drug Policy Alliance led the campaign that overhauled New Jersey’s system and the reform resulted in cutting the state jail population by a third. The reform changed the system by 1) declaring non-monetary pretrial release the default option for the majority of defendants; (2) establishing a pretrial services agency in each county to monitor low-risk individuals who are released pending trial; (3) mandating the use of a validated risk assessment tool when evaluating individuals for release; (4) permitting the detention of truly dangerous individuals; and (5) guaranteeing timelines for speedy trial for those who are detained.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.