“The ACLU of Georgia has reviewed many of the state’s recent gang indictments, and we have sincere concerns about the criminalization of individual’s expressive conduct or free association, both protected under the first amendment.”

ACLU of Georgia Policy Counsel Ben Lynde, raising concerns before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Senate Bill 44, which increases penalties for people charged under the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. This week at the Capitol, amid ongoing committee work and the passage of legislation in both chambers, we testified against two harmful “tough-on-crime” bills, and our executive director spent a day lobbying with a regional women’s volunteer service organization.

First, here are the bills we offered testimony on this week: 

SB 44, as noted above, would impose harsher punishments on people charged with crimes associated with recruiting minors into gangs. In addition to our testimony, other civil rights organizations spoke out against the bill, emphasizing it would take away discretion from judges while also clogging up the court system. We agree, but our main concerns center on criminalizing benign behavior. Under this bill, the following would be subject to new mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines: 

  • Receiving a text message from a gang member;
  • Sharing social media content including gang members; and
  • Appearing in photographs with them.

“These types of overt acts, so far divorced from actual alleged criminal conduct, are wholly inappropriate for mandatory minimum sentencing,” Lynde said.

The bill passed the committee with a 6-3 vote and is scheduled to have a floor vote Monday.

On Thursday, February 9, Lynde testified before the Senate Public Safety Committee about SB 63, which expands offenses requiring bail. Again, this bill has a number of issues: 

  • It unfairly targets Georgia's poor. 
  • It erodes due process and undermines the criminal legal system. 
  • It makes Georgia less safe by increasing recidivism.

Lynde pointed to a study carried out by the Legislature’s own Council on Criminal Justice Reform. Their report concluded that individuals held for just two or three days in pretrial detention were nearly 40 percent more likely to reoffend than people released within one day. Simply put, the longer people stay in jail on pretrial, the likelihood they’ll commit another crime increases.

Outside of committee meetings, ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young participated in Links Day at the Capitol. Founded in 1946, The Links Inc. is an international service organization consisting of 17,000 professional women of African descent. Its focus is enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African American and other people of African ancestry. 

group of women on Georgia capitol steps

Young is a member of the Camellia Rose Chapter of the Links. Her mother and grandmother were members, too. During the group’s visit to the Capitol, members from across the state advocated for women’s reproductive rights, education funding, and better access to mental health services for all Georgians, Young said.

“The advocacy for reproductive rights was of particular interest to the ACLU of Georgia, and we provided resources to the group on the status of reproductive health in Georgia,” she said.

Jerzy Shedlock (he/him) is a communications strategist at the ACLU of Georgia.

(Photo above caption: ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young with members of The Links Inc., an international service organization consisting of 17,000 professional women of African descent.)