“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 leads the nation in per capita rate of people under correctional control. 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.
By 2023, the ACLU of Georgia’s efforts will result in reducing the population of our prisons and jails, ultimately leading to a reduction in prison beds and facility closures. The criminal legal system in Georgia will be more humane, and the leadership that controls the prisons and jails will be held accountable for violations of civil and human rights. The ACLU of Georgia will ensure that gains in marijuana and bail reform remain intact, and we will push forward on decriminalization of marijuana in Georgia.
Key Strategic Components
➢ Release incarcerated people who are high-risk and those who pose no threat to the public until the COVID-19 crisis is contained.
➢ Elect sheriffs, district attorneys, judges, and statewide leaders who are supportive of criminal legal system reform.
➢ Reduce the jail and prison population and advocate for humane conditions inside detention facilities.