Sen. Kamala Harris introduced a bipartisan bill Thursday designed to prod states to reform their bail systems, in an attempt to move forward with criminal justice reform as Congress is caught in partisan gridlock over health care and other issues.
The new bill, which Harris co-wrote with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, a former presidential candidate, would spend $10 million annually for three years on grants for states that reform their bail systems.
Most courts in the U.S. use money bail, requiring defendants who are awaiting trial to stay in jail unless they pay a certain amount of money. Advocates say that hurts poor defendants who haven’t been convicted of any crimes.
Under Harris’ bill — her first major bipartisan legislation — states would be eligible for a grant if they enact reforms such as replacing money bail with systems based on assessing a defendant’s risk to the community, releasing inmates before trial in most cases, or appointing public defenders at the earliest stages of pretrial detention.