Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Sunday said ending cash bail will be a priority next year, as she plans to co-sponsor a bill that would do away with bail for nonviolent crimes on the federal level and provide incentives for states that follow suit.
Gillibrand said she hopes the No Cash Bail Act will be one of the first bills introduced in the new Congress and that the Democrat-led House will pass it, along with a bipartisan coalition of senators. The announcement comes as Congress is set to vote on the First Step Act, a prison reform bill, on Monday.
Gillibrand said the bill would require that states implement alternative pretrial systems and reduce pretrial jail populations if they wish to receive federal funding as part of this incentive program. The bill would also withhold grant funding from states that continue to utilize cash bail.
"We should not be locking people up in jail because they cannot afford their bail. Period," Gillibrand said at a news conference with Rev. Al Sharpton and advocates. "It’s really that simple. I believe our country is much better than that and I believe we need to give people the opportunity to thrive, to help them when they’re down, to make sure they actually have access to the rehabilitation they might need when things go wrong."
Gillibrand said that 87 percent of people involved in pretrial alternative programs show up to their court hearings.
"It would make a massive difference in the lives of people, of thousands of people of color who sit unjustly in jail because they have no way to pay," she said, adding: "I’m hoping because we are able to talk about criminal justice as a bipartisan issue, that this will also be seen in the lens of a bipartisan, common sense issue."
Sharpton said there is an "inherent bias" that assumes that people who can afford bail will show up to court and those who cannot, will not.
"We are just saying that we should not have a nation that detains people based on their economic standing or their race, which also is based in many cases on their economic standing," Sharpton said. "The bond industry is an absolutely horrendous idea to make profits off detaining people who could be innocent."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced similar legislation in July to end money bail. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) introduced the companion bill in the House in March 2017 and it is in committee, according to Congressional records online.