- As San Francisco’s district attorney, Harris supported raising cash bail costs. Soon after, the city sharply increased the cash bail schedule for weapons-related felonies.
- “People come to San Francisco to commit crimes because it’s cheaper to do it,” Harris said in 2004.
- As a senator, Harris introduced bipartisan legislation to encourage states to reform their cash bail systems so that lower-income people aren’t unfairly kept in jail as a result of their inability to pay steep bail costs.
2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris continues to face scrutiny over her 25-year career in law enforcement – including her two terms as San Francisco’s district attorney and five years as California’s attorney general. She has claimed to have been a “progressive prosecutor,” but she helped implement policies that run counter to her current positions on those same issues.
During her years as San Francisco’s top prosecutor, Harris supported raising cash bail costs. In 2004, shortly after being elected DA, Harris made the issue one of her top priorities.
“We are in the process of asking the bench, the judiciary, to reevaluate the fact that we require people who have been arrested to pay a lot less than other counties, and so people come to San Francisco to commit crimes because it’s cheaper to do it,” Harris told the Commonwealth Club of California in audio published on Tuesday by the Washington Free Beacon. “We have to do something about that.”
Shortly thereafter, San Francisco’s Superior Court judges moved to sharply increase cash bail costs for weapons-related felony charges, including assault with a firearm and the sale of machine guns.
As a senator, however, Harris introduced bipartisan legislation to encourage states to reform their cash bail systems so that lower-income people aren’t kept in jail as a result of their inability to pay steep bail costs. Harris argued that the system wrongly prioritises ability to pay over risk assessments, penalising the poor and people of colour.
“If they’re awaiting trial and they don’t pose a risk, let’s not have the taxpayers foot the bill, especially when a similarly situated person is not in jail because they could write a check,” Harris told McClatchy in 2017.
In her 2019 memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” Harris wrote that she knew as a prosecutor that lower-income people were disproportionately harmed by cash bail.
“When I was district attorney, I knew that every day, families were leaving the Hall of Justice, crossing the street, walking into those bail bonds offices, having done whatever it took to get the cash to pay the bondsmen – pawning their possessions, securing predatory payday loans, asking for help from their friends or at church,” she wrote.
Harris’ apparent evolution on bail reform parallels her transformation on a handful of other key criminal justice issues, including marijuana legalization, decriminalizing sex work, and eliminating the death penalty.
For example, Harris was opposed to legalizing weed for recreational use during her years as a prosecutor, but last year – after California legalised the drug – Harris co-sponsored legislation in the Senate to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. And while Harris has consistently held that she’s personally opposed to the death penalty, she defended California’s system of capital punishment as attorney general even after it was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.
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