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.

Cash Bail Reform

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed the city’s bail reform bill that the city council passed unanimously last night. The city attorney called to make sure the ACLU GA was present for the for  signing & press conference. Before she sat down to sign the bill, the mayor specifically thanked Andrea Young, executive director, and Burrell Ellis, then-political director, for our work. The mayor also made it clear this is the beginning of criminal justice reform in Atlanta & asked for our help to continue.

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Citizen's Arrest Law

Georgia’s 250 year old citizen’s arrest law (HB 479), enacted shortly after Georgia seceded from the Union, had allowed private persons to make arrests to preserve slavery during the Civil War.  The ACLU of Georgia worked diligently to repeal of this antiquated, racist, and dangerous citizen’s arrest law in Georgia which finally happened in 2021.

Policy Director, Christopher Bruce's 2021 testimony in support of HB 479, a bill to repeal Georgia's citizen's arrest law.

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Marijuana Decriminalization

In 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union released a new report that showed Black people are 3 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession in Georgia despite comparable national marijuana usage rates. Although the total number of people arrested for marijuana possession has decreased in the past decade, nationally, law enforcement still made 6.1 million such arrests over that period, and the racial disparities in arrest rates remain in every state. Read the full report here.

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