- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2019

Sen. Kamala D. Harris on Monday unveiled a broad rewrite of the U.S. criminal justice system, confronting an issue where she’s potentially vulnerable ahead of this week’s Democratic presidential debate and amid a recent dip in the polls.

The California lawmaker, seeking to crack the top tier of the Democratic field after a summer slump in the polls, is proposing to end federal mandatory minimum sentences, legalize marijuana and hold both police officers and prosecutors more accountable for their actions, among other priorities.

Despite skepticism from some corners about her own experience as a “cop,” the former California attorney general and district attorney said her experience is invaluable when it comes to recommending changes to the system.

“I know firsthand how the system works from the inside out, and with that comes a level of authority to dictate how the reform needs to look and to know the levers within the system that need to be pushed to get it to where it needs to go,” she said in a video released by her campaign on Monday. “I can walk in a room and no one can ever question my background and my commitment to public safety.”

The move could prove a political gamble, with many activist Democrats questioning President Trump’s hard line record as a self-described “law-and-order” executive.

The Harris plan calls for legalizing marijuana at the federal level, expunging past marijuana-related convictions, and taxing marijuana products, with the money going toward programs to help people most adversely affected by the “War on Drugs.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Democrat and another 2020 White House hopeful, had gone after Ms. Harris in the July presidential debate for the senator’s record as a prosecutor, particularly when it came to putting people behind bars for marijuana-related offenses.

But Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Harris supporter, said the senator shouldn’t feel the need to run from her past record as a prosecutor who was elected to enforce and defend laws she might oppose now.

“There is no reason for her to defend being a prosecutor. We should not cede prosecution to any particular group or person,” Ms. Fudge, Ohio Democrat, said on CNN. “Her plan is one that no one outside of the system could have written.”

Ms. Harris, also a former district attorney in San Francisco, would support a new national standard that says law enforcement personnel should only use deadly force when “necessary” and when “no reasonable alternatives” are available.

The plan also aims to boost scrutiny of prosecutors by authorizing the Department of Justice to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of offices that commit “systematic” misconduct.

It would put more federal money into data collection and analysis, and require federal prosecutors to provide data on their charging, plea bargaining, and sentencing decisions.

Ms. Harris would also seek to end the death penalty and solitary confinement, end the use of private prisons and detention centers for immigrants who are in the country illegally, invest more in rehabilitation services for ex-convicts, and end the cash bail system. She would also move to end sentencing disparities for crimes related to crack versus powder cocaine — a crime policy once championed by 2020 rival Joseph R. Biden that President Obama sought to reverse.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who spoke to Ms. Harris about the plan, said she deserves credit for taking such a comprehensive approach and that the plan surpassed his expectations.

“She didn’t just give the hashtag or slogan kind of a [heading] — she talked about holding prosecutors, which she was, as well as police accountable, as well as what is fair for those that are crime victims,” Mr. Sharpton said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

In her plan, Ms. Harris also would work to double federal resources to address “corporate crimes” and companies that defraud consumers.

Other candidates like Mr. Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Cory A. Booker have also unveiled plans to overhaul the criminal justice system in ways that would reverse or undercut major pieces of a 1994 crime bill championed by Mr. Biden that critics say has contributed to mass incarceration of people of color.

Ms. Harris released the plan as she and 10 other candidates prepare for the third Democratic presidential debate in Houston on Thursday, amid signs that she’s losing ground to the “Big Three” contenders in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in Mr. Biden, Ms. Warren, and Sen. Bernard Sanders.

Former New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie said Ms. Harris is feeling the heat ahead of the debate this week.

“She’s got to figure out what is my strategy?” Mr. Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Is it to go back at Biden again and try to reprise that, or [does she] … try to do something a little bit different? I think she’s the person who has the most pressure on her, because her donors are going to be looking at her and going, all right, ‘Are we going anywhere or aren’t we?’”

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