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California senator co-sponsors bill to end bail

California jails are filled with people who are unable to pay their bail, and Senators Kamala Harris and Rand Paul are hoping to change that.

As they explain in their New York Times opinion piece, 450,000 Americans await trial in jail because they cannot afford to pay their bail. The amounts set are sometimes extremely high in relation to the crime committed: $20,000 for stealing clothes worth little more than $100 in some cases. Higher bail is set for black and Latino men compared to white defendants accused of similar crimes. All of this is meant to ensure that those accused of crimes show up for their court dates, but studies show holding people before their trials for more than 24 hours and then releasing them actually decreases the likelihood that they will return for their day in court. Perhaps this is because people who are detained can lose their jobs, homes and sometimes even custody of their children as a result of long pretrial detentions. It also costs taxpayers about $14 billion a year.

Due to the system of financial bail that the senators believe to be unjust in its current iteration, they have introduced the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act in the Senate. As the USA Today reports, this is a reform bill that would award grants to jurisdictions that want to replace bail with a different incentive to ensure court appearance. In California, home of Senator Harris, bail amounts are set much higher than in the rest of the country, and the majority of those in Golden State jails are there because they cannot pay their bail: 62 percent are awaiting trial or sentencing.

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