Kamala Harris answers questions from the media on Harbor Island. Photo by Chris Jennewein

California Sen. Kamala Harris announced Monday she will support the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill backed by President Trump because it’s “smart on crime.”

Harris, a Democrat who was Attorney General of California before her election to the Senate, described the bill as a “compromise of a compromise” but an initial step “to make our criminal justice system smarter.”

The “First Step Act” aims to reduce the number of inmates in the nation’s crowded prisons by giving federal judges more discretion in sentencing offenders for nonviolent crimes. It will also strengthen rehabilitation programs.

“For years, we’ve been offered a false choice on criminal justice policy. It’s a choice that suggests we are either ‘soft’ on crime or ‘tough’ on crime instead of asking: ‘Are we smart on crime?’” said Harris, who began her career as a prosecutor. “By passing the First Step Act, we can make our criminal justice system smarter.”

Harris, who has been mentioned as a possible 2020 presidential candidate, said reforming the criminal justice system was also a equity issue for the country.

“For too long, sentencing in our country has been overly severe and has disproportionately targeted communities of color — especially black men,” she said. “Reforming some of the most draconian federal sentencing laws, including unfair mandatory minimum sentences under two- and three-strikes laws, will make our system more just.”

But she said the legislation is only, as the act is named, a first step toward full reform.

“It is a compromise of a compromise, and we ultimately need to make far greater reforms if we are to right the wrongs that exist in our criminal justice system,” she said.

The bill is a rare example of bipartisan support for major legislation in Congress, with progressive Democrats joining President Trump and Republicans in supporting the bill.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.