Criminal Legal Reform
“Like Jim Crow (and slavery), mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.”
– Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Our country’s mass incarceration system, rooted in the history of slavery, has devastated communities of color across the country, particularly Black communities, for decades. The U.S. leads the world in incarceration, and Georgia has one of the highest per-capita rates of people under correctional control in the nation. As civil rights laws expanded access for African Americans, the criminal legal system expanded, punishment increased, and civil rights were taken away. Civil rights advocate and author Michelle Alexander describes this as “The New Jim Crow.”
The ACLU of Georgia has a long history of working on criminal justice reform, seizing opportunities to push for reform whenever those opportunities arise. Progress was achieved under Governor Nathan Deal—a culmination of criminal justice advocates’ tireless work, particularly from the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR), and the Georgia Justice Reform Partnership, which includes the ACLU.
That progress came under threat with the election of Governor Kemp, who campaigned on “tough on crime and gangs.” The spread of COVID-19 brought new attention to the conditions inside detention facilities and the immediate threat of the virus spreading. Most recently, with the explosion in awareness around police violence and systemic racism, a tremendous opportunity to significantly reform Georgia’s criminal legal system has become more evident.