California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose record as a prosecutor has been under scrutiny since she entered the presidential race, has unveiled a criminal justice plan that calls for abolishing the death penalty, ending cash bail and collecting more data on officer-involved shootings.
Harris condemns the death penalty as “immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
The California Democrat also calls for eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing at the federal level and ending the use of private prisons as well as solitary confinement.
Harris says a national standard should be established to allow the use of deadly force only when “necessary” and when no reasonable alternatives are available. She also wants to create a National Police Systems Review Board, which would collect data and review police shootings and cases of alleged severe misconduct. The board would issue recommendations and implement safety standards based on evidence revealed in reviews.
Harris’ plan comes in the same week that Democrats are set to meet for the third presidential primary debates, the first with all leading candidates sharing the same stage. During the round of debates in July, Harris found herself on the defensive as former Vice President Joe Biden and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard attacked her record as a prosecutor. Gabbard focused on Harris’ stance on the death penalty and said Harris had “blocked evidence” that could have helped “innocent people” on death row.
Harris spent seven years as district attorney for San Francisco and six years as the state’s attorney general, the first black woman in that position. As a prosecutor, she tended to defend the status quo or take a cautious approach to reforms rather than advocate for bold changes. While some now question the timing of her call for criminal justice reforms, her supporters say she was expected as an official to represent the government and uphold the law.
Her campaign has sought to cast her as a change agent, dedicated to improving a flawed system from the inside. In her stump speech, she argues that she is uniquely qualified to “prosecute the case” against President Donald Trump, who she says has a long “rap sheet.”
Harris was not the only candidate pressed on her criminal justice record in the second round of debates. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker ripped into Biden and suggested that the former senator — a longtime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and for several years its chairman — is partly responsible for the criminal justice system that he is seeking to reform as a presidential candidate.