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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

Kamala Harris Releases Criminal Justice Reform Plan to Address Police Brutality, Mass Incarceration, the Drug War

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Photo: Scott Eisen (Getty Images)

Kamala Harris has a lot of plans.

Every other week the California senator introduces a proposal that would end climate change (with a trillion dollars,) create Medicare-for-all (without pushing out private insurers) and fund black businesses (while ensuring that the local Jamaican restaurant never runs out of oxtails). And on Monday, the Democratic presidential hopeful shared her ideas on how she plans to reimagine the criminal justice system with an ambitious set of proposals that include legalizing marijuana, investigating prosecutorial misconduct, sentencing reform and changing laws that govern when police can use deadly force.

Harris, a former San Francisco prosecutor and California attorney general, drew on two decades of experience as a law enforcement officer to craft the policy proposals that promise to “transform the criminal justice system and re-envision public safety in America.” Based on four guiding principles of ending mass incarceration, holding law enforcement accountable, equality in the criminal justice system and protecting the vulnerable, the senator promises to use Congress, executive authority and the president’s bully pulpit to accomplish her wide-ranging goals.


While the outline has a number of specific objectives, Harris’ blueprint only covers the broad strokes of how she would accomplish these goals, making it nearly possible for policy analysts to measure the potential costs and impact of her suggestions.

Mass Incarceration

After she legalizes marijuana, Harris would levy a federal sales tax that would fund grants for community programs, small business loans and training for people who were adversely affected by the war on drugs. She is also a co-sponsor of the Justice Safety Valve Act, which gives judges the discretion to go below mandatory minimum sentences. She advocates for the end of federal private prisons and investing money in a number of areas, including:

  • Reducing the number of nonviolent female inmates
  • Creating a Bureau of Children and Family Justice
  • Education and job training
  • A National Criminal Justice Commission
  • Addiction and treatment programs

Reforming Law Enforcement

Harris supports a national standard for deadly use of force that requires cops to use proportional force, and only when force is “objectively reasonable, necessary, and...a last resort.” The plan also proposes a National Police Systems Review Board that would look at policing policies and data, including police shooting statistics. Currently, the federal government does not collect data on police shootings.


She wants to invest money into body cameras, bias training, mental health screenings, and de-escalation training, as well as changing laws on civil asset forfeiture. She also wants to double the size of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division and use some of those resources to conduct independent investigations of police shootings.

Equality in Criminal Justice

The California senator calls for an end to money bail and the death penalty, both of which are disproportionately applied to black people in the criminal justice system. Harris’ agenda would wipe out policies that “criminalize the poor” and such as the suspension of drivers’ licenses for unpaid fines. Although many of these policies are controlled by state, county and local laws, Harris again suggests “investing” in the entities to promote change such as ending solitary confinement and giving access to video conferencing for imprisoned mothers.


Protecting Vulnerable People

Harris’s catch-all fourth priority would use the DOJ to protect citizens from corporate fraud and discrimination while holding financial and educational institutions accountable to consumers. Another $1 billion investment from Harris’ plan would end the rape kit backlog.


“Americans deserve a criminal justice system that focuses on fairness, rehabilitation, and accountability to build trust and safe communities,” Harris said in a press release. “As president, I’ll fix this broken system to make it fairer and more accountable for communities across the country.”

After a surge following the first Democratic debate, Harris’ poll numbers have steadily fallen. The latest ABC/Washington Post poll has the former district attorney in fourth place, behind Sens. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Many of Harris’ detractors have cited her controversial history as a no-nonsense “smart on crime” prosecutor and attorney general.


But if we get those oxtails, though...