Harris Vows to End Death Penalty, Money Bail as President

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at the 25th Essence Festival in New Orleans, Saturday, July 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(CN) – Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris took aim Monday at the criminal justice system with her latest campaign plank, proposing to eliminate cash bail, private prisons and the death penalty.

The California senator, who spent decades as a local and state prosecutor, says as president she would transform the system she long defended to make it fairer for minorities and poor Americans. Harris claims her prosecutorial experience makes her the best candidate to bring real change to a system she now says is “fundamentally flawed” and riddled with structural bias and racism.

“Americans deserve a criminal justice system that focuses on fairness, rehabilitation and accountability to build trust and safe communities,” said Harris in statement. “This plan uses my experience and unique capability to root out failures within the justice system. We can end mass incarceration and combat the bias and racism that fuels it.”

The sweeping proposal aims to reduce prison populations by barring cash bail and mandatory minimum sentencing, both of which studies have shown disproportionately impact minorities and low income communities. She is also promising voters that as president she would end federal use of private prisons, legalize marijuana and clear the nationwide rape kit backlog in her first term.

On the campaign trail Harris has routinely painted herself as a “progressive prosecutor” best fit to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020.

In interviews and stump speeches, she often touts her reform record as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general. In San Francisco, she helped start a program that allowed first-time drug offenders to avoid jail time in favor of education and job training, and as the state’s first attorney general she required her officers to wear body cameras and take bias training.

But her prosecutorial record is also dotted with actions that have made her unfavorable with many in the Democratic Party, such as her defense of the state’s death penalty law after a state court ruled it unconstitutional, and her criticism of a bill that would have required her office to appoint special prosecutors to investigate fatal police shootings.

Critics say Harris missed a valuable opportunity to enact criminal justice reform in the Golden State and has only changed her stance on many key issues to become more attractive to voters elsewhere.

Harris’ latest blueprint comes days before the next round of Democratic presidential debates, where she’s hoping to regain momentum lost over the summer. Recent polls have Harris pegged in single digits, well behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The Harris campaign is aware of her polling slide and has sent out recent fundraising emails asking donors to help the candidate out of a “summer slump.” A campaign memo obtained by Politico included talking points and strategy to guide Harris through questions and criticisms about her flailing support in early voting primary states such as New Hampshire.

Supporters, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, are calling the criminal justice plan “innovative” and “sweeping.”

“Kamala is an uncompromising advocate for the voiceless and underserved. As someone who has seen the flaws in our criminal justice firsthand, I have long appreciated Kamala’s commitment to reforming it,” said Breed in a statement. “Her plans to end mandatory minimum sentencing, money bail and the death penalty exemplify why her platform is so important. She is a trailblazer through and through.”

Last week, Harris followed the lead of her Democratic rivals and introduced a $10 trillion climate change plan she says will help hold polluters accountable and create millions of new jobs.

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