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Kamala Harris: Late to the Bail Reform Party

Kamala Harris

Among the 80 or so democrats who have announced they’re running for president is California Senator Kamala Harris. Sen. Harris has made a lot of noise since announcing her candidacy about her deep seeded desire to do away with what she refers to as the “evil cash bail system”. As proof she touts her plan (which went nowhere) to offer states $10 million in federal grant money if they would do away with cash bail. But while she’s apparently learned the importance of manufacturing great sound bites that appeal to the base, she hasn’t mastered the fine art of proposing workable alternatives.

Opportunistic Stand on Bail Bonds

Senator Harris’ newfound opposition to cash bail doesn’t dovetail with her record, including her years as San Francisco District Attorney, during which she vigorously defended both the constitutionality of cash bail and the bail schedule in her district, which was among the highest in the nation. In addition, when the bail schedule in the California district where Harris was later Attorney General was challenged in court for violating the 8th Amendment prohibition against “unreasonable bail” she called for the suit to be dismissed.

It’s only since deciding to run for president that Sen. Harris has changed her tune on bail. Apparently someone on her team reminded her that big money donors on the left oppose cash bail and she’d have to align her “beliefs” with theirs if she was to have any chance of attracting serious financing for her campaign. It’s reminiscent of Hillary Clinton, who long opposed gay marriage and then changed her tune when she ran for president in order to attract campaign cash.

Power Corrupts

According to then California Attorney General Harris “the modern practice of requiring a bail bond or the deposit of a sum of money subject to forfeiture serves as additional assurance of the presence of an accused.” As you can see when she is not driven by purely political considerations Sen. Harris is capable of seeing the bigger picture and standing up for what is right.

It wasn’t too long after issuing her reasoned defense of bail, however, that Harris decided to run for the Senate and found it necessary to start walking back her support for bail. Wealthy donors on the left don’t want mavericks running their party. They want sock puppets. And Kamala Harris has shown a disturbing willingness to sock-up if it will achieve her goal.

The Embrace of the Untenable

Once she made her way to Washington now Senator Harris was expected by the big money donors on the left who put her there to do their bidding. So she dutifully went about proposing a type of bail reform that is now opposed by everyone from the local bondsman to the ACLU and NAACP: risk assessment algorithms.

On her Facebook page she crowed about the virtues of this wondrous system. To read her posts on the matter you’d have to conclude that she believes it has a kind of magical ability to make an entirely objective and accurate determination of whether a person represents a danger to society or a flight risk. But her support for this type of system runs into a few troubling facts (not to mention that if flies in the face of her long held support of cash bail).

  • First, in states that have adopted risk assessment algorithms the number of court no-shows has exploded. It turns out that the possibility of losing money or property put up as bail actually is an effective way to ensure defendants show up to face their accusers. Just like Harris said it was some years earlier.
  • Second, risk assessment algorithms have come under fire from civil rights groups because they use data gleaned from now-discredited law enforcement practices that targeted minority groups for closer scrutiny.
  • Third, prosecutors are being forced to file an enormous number of detention requests in order to prevent the most dangerous offenders from being released by the computer. This has caused already outrageous court backlogs to grow even further.
  • Fourth, states that abandon bail bonding are waking up to the fact that keeping track of all the people the computer is releasing is really, really expensive. On top of that, when some 40% of those released by computer don’t show up for their court date, tracking them down is even more expensive. So states aren’t bothering and fugitive populations are exploding.
  • Fifth, states are losing untold millions of dollars in bail revenue that used to go toward propping up the financially embattled justice system. Things have gotten so bad that judges in New Jersey have warned of a wholesale financial meltdown of the system there.

We could go on and on but you get the point. Senator Harris, in an attempt to mollify big money donors, is willing to throw the American justice system under the bus and bankrupt places like Jefferson County, Arapahoe County and Denver County .

The Monty Python School of Government

There’s a famous sketch by the British comedy group Monty Python where a guest on a fictional TV show tells the audience how to rid the world of all known diseases. It seems all you have to do is “become a doctor and discover a marvelous cure for something”. Sen. Harris recently joined the Monty Python School of Government when she stated her opinion that risk assessment problems can be avoided if everyone just makes sure not to be biased. Gee, thanks Kamala.

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