Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has released a criminal justice plan that vows to end mass incarceration, eliminate cash bail, and end the death penalty. Harris’ progressive proposal includes many ideas she previously rejected as a district attorney and California’s attorney general.
Harris’ proposal intends to end mass incarceration by investing resources into evidence- and community-based programs to reduce crime and make communities safer. The California Democrat noted that incarceration rates among Black men and women are disproportionately higher than among white Americans.
The former prosecutor proposes making “significant” federal investments to help reverse mass incarceration, including programs to cultivate jobs, job training, housing, transportation, food security, education, and healthcare. If elected, Harris also promises to end the War on Drugs and legalize marijuana.
Harris would accomplish this by passing the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which legalizes marijuana at the federal level, the expungement for marijuana-based convictions, and funds grant programs to help “the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs” by assessing sales taxes on marijuana and its products.
“I know the system from the inside out,” Harris told The New York Times.
“So trust me when I say we have a problem with mass incarceration in America. Trust me when I say we have a problem with accountability.”
The new plan recommends sentencing reforms to halt mandatory minimums at the federal level and incentivize states to do the same. Under a Harris administration, the government would end the use of private prisons, restore the voting rights of previously incarcerated individuals, and end cash bail. Harris’s plan also calls for independent investigations of police shootings.
The New York Times noted that many of the progressive policies in Harris’ plan are ones that she opposed as a prosecutor. In 2004, then-San Francisco’s district attorney Harris pushed for higher cash bail for certain crimes. In 2010, she failed to support marijuana legalization in California. And as recently as five years ago, Harris declined to support independent investigations during police shootings.
Harris claimed that she has always been aware of those injustices but said she worked within a system that lacked the political willpower or impulse to carry through on these reforms.
Several of Harris’ opponents in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination have already released their criminal justice reform proposals. In August, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) unveiled a wide-ranging plan designed to purge the country’s criminal justice system of “institutional racism and corporate profiteering.”
Sanders’ plan, which was released on August 18 during a campaign stop in South Carolina, tackled mass incarceration, cash bail, the private prison system, the criminalization of drugs, and policing. The Vermont independent promised to ban for-profit prisons, audit the practices of commissaries, and encourage states and localities to end law enforcement’s dependency on fines and fees for revenue.
“We have a criminal justice system that is racist and broken, and working together we’re going to fundamentally transform it,” Sanders said at the time.
Fellow candidate Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, released his plan to tackle the “racist structures and systems” in the US back in July. Buttigieg’s ambitious “The Douglass Plan,” in honor of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, focused on healthcare, criminal justice, education, entrepreneurship, and voting rights.
Like Sanders and Harris, Buttigieg proposed changing federal sentencing for drug offenses, legalizing marijuana, and ending mandatory minimums.
“Despite equal rates of use, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for using marijuana,” Buttigieg’s plan noted. “Research shows that incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths. In fact, some studies show that incarceration actually increases the rate of overdose deaths. We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this public health problem.”
In her interview with The New York Times, Harris said it was “a good thing” that all the major candidates running for president of the United States were pushing for criminal justice reform.
Harris’ plan was released in the face of declining poll numbers. She saw a surge in polling and fundraising following a headline grabbing performance at the first Democratic debate in June, but her numbers have now dipped below the three leading candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sanders.
A recent survey by Politico/Morning Consult placed Harris in fourth place behind Biden, Sanders and Warren. The RealClearPolitics’ national poll average also puts Harris in single digits, a few points ahead of Buttigieg.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.