July 20, 2017

Harris, Paul Introduce Bill to Encourage States to Reform or Replace Unjust, Costly Money Bail System

Read a joint op-ed from Senators Harris and Paul HERE

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a bipartisan bail reform bill – The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017 - to encourage states to reform or replace the practice of money bail, the requirement that individuals awaiting trial remain in jail unless they pay for their release. Across the country, state and local governments continue to have ineffective money bail systems that force individuals to pay amounts set arbitrarily, without consideration for the ability to pay, or an accurate assessment of the person’s danger to the public or risk of not showing up to trial.

“Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally,” said Senator Harris. “Yet more than 450,000 Americans sit in jail today awaiting trial and many of them cannot afford “money bail.” In our country, whether you stay in jail or not is wholly determined by whether you’re wealthy or not – and that’s wrong. We must come together to reform a bail system that is discriminatory, wasteful, and fails to keep our communities safe.”

“Americans should be able to expect fair and equal treatment under the law regardless of how much money is in their pockets or how many connections they have,” said Senator Paul. “By giving states greater freedom to undertake reforms specific to their needs, our legislation will help strengthen protections for minority and low-income defendants, reduce waste, and move our bail system toward more effective methods, such as individualized, risk-based assessments.”

Excessive money bail disproportionately affects communities of color, as studies have shown that African-American and Hispanic defendants are more likely to be detained pretrial than white defendants and less likely to be able to post money so they can be released. It also has an adverse effect on public safety.

The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017:

  • Authorizes a $10 million grant over a three-year period to incentivize and encourage states to reform or replace the practice of money bail.
  • Sets forth principles to obtain grants, including:
    • Replacing money bail system with individualized, pretrial assessments with risk-based decision-making. The risk assessments must be regularly validated on a local population, and include objective, research-based, validated assessment tools that do not result in unwarranted disparities on the basis of any classification protected under Federal nondiscrimination laws or the nondiscrimination laws of the applicable State.
    • Providing for a presumption of release unless the judicial officer determines that such release would not result in the appearance of the person at trial or would endanger the safety of others in the community.
    • If pretrial release requires imposing conditions, it should be based on the least restrictive, non-financial conditions that a judicial officer determines is necessary.
    • Supervision of bail conditions should be based on evidence-based practices.
    • Appointment of counsel at the earliest possible stage of pretrial detention.
    • Instituting a system of data collection and reporting to show effectiveness of system improvements.
  • The bill further authorizes an additional $5 million over three years to 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.
  • Requires an annual report to the Department of Justice that provides for transparency and accountability for these grant programs.

You can view the full text of the bill here.

The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act is supported by a broad coalition of over 40 leading criminal justice organizations, including Pretrial Justice Institute, Center for American Progress, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and many others.

For a full list of endorsements, click here.