GJP'S POLICY AGENDA

GJP advocates to change criminal justice policies that have disproportionately and negatively impacted poor people and people of color. 

We believe systemic change is necessary.

Aggressive policing and arrest policies, harsh and discriminatory sentencing practices, and unequal application of laws that impose barriers to reentry harm communities of color – and our state. GJP believes a better Georgia is possible, one where we do not have the highest rate of correctional control in the nation and one where the 4.6 million people with a Georgia criminal record do not face a lifetime of perpetual punishment. That is why GJP has successfully advocated for 22 changes to Georgia law over the last 10 years that have impacted millions by reducing the number of people on probation and reducing barriers to reentry.

Georgia Justice Project’s entry into policy advocacy in 2009 grew out of our representation of individuals denied housing vouchers due to their criminal record.  We have worked since then to expand access to record clearing – including expanding expungement (called restriction and sealing in Georgia) numerous times and improving Georgia’s First Offender law – to increase access to stable housing and employment. Our advocacy work has expanded to many other areas, but it always remains based in the experience and stories of the people we represent every day. 

georgia criminal justice policy advocacy

Soon after beginning policy advocacy, GJP began working closely with the Council on Criminal Justice Reform under Governor Nathan Deal and we have continued to take a pragmatic and evidence-based approach to policy advocacy, working with a broad range of bipartisan stakeholders.  Although access to meaningful employment is the undisputed key to successful reentry, 72% of collateral consequences impose barriers to work.  That is why much of our work has focused on reducing barriers to employment, and we have worked closely with Georgia businesses and chambers of commerce to further that goal.

We are also a steering partner of the Justice Reform Partnership and we engaged a coalition of 67 organizations and congregations in the Second Chance for Georgia campaign to successfully advocate for criminal record clearing reform and the passage of Senate Bill 288 in 2020.  We worked closely with state agencies and advocates to draft and advocate for passage of Senate Bill 105 in 2021 that expanded the ability of people on felony probation to terminate their probation early, and we continue to collaborate with our partners to ensure effective implementation of the law.

A full list of laws that GJP has either drafted and advocated for or worked in coalition to support can be found on our Policy Accomplishments page.

There is a lot of work that remains to be done. Our current priorities include:

  • Expanding access to expungement of felony convictions. After several rounds of reform many Georgians can now restrict and seal records of non-convictions, most misdemeanor convictions, and certain pardoned felonies, but Georgia still lacks an accessible path to restrict and seal most felony convictions. Also, the current process that requires an individual to file a motion to have their record sealed is out of reach for many that cannot afford an attorney. Georgia must join the movement for Clean Slate reform that automatically expunges certain records after a number of conviction-free years.
  • Reducing the number of Georgians on probation. GJP drafted and successfully advocated for Senate Bill 105, which allows for termination of many felony probation sentences after three years if there have been no new arrests, but there is much work to be done to ensure the law is implemented for maximum impact. Also, many of Georgia’s neighboring states limit the length of probation sentences and Georgia should join them.
  • Removing barriers to occupational licensing for people with a record. Old and irrelevant criminal records are often used to exclude individuals from educational and career opportunities. 1 in 7 Georgia jobs require licensing and excluding Georgians with a record creates barriers to equity and economic mobility, and harms employers who desperately need to fill skilled positions.
  • Reducing poverty-based driver’s license suspensions. A driver’s license in Georgia is often essential to employment yet Georgia suspends over 200,000 driver’s licenses each year for offenses unrelated to driving and public safety. Missing a court date or falling behind in child support payments can result in a suspension and start a cycle of poverty and justice involvement. There are over 50,000 arrests each year in Georgia for driving with a suspended license. We can reduce suspensions and improve public safety.
  • Creating a child support system that strengthens families. In Georgia, a poor person who goes to prison will continue to accrue child support debt and interest even if they have no assets or income, imposing significant barriers to reentry and family reunification. Child support orders should be suspended for poor people who are incarcerated.
  • Voter education. People who are not currently serving a felony sentence can vote in Georgia, but many do not realize this. GJP partners with community organizations around the state to ensure people who have been convicted are aware of their rights.

2022 Legislative Update: #GettingGeorgiansBacktoWork

For the third year in a row, Georgia Justice Project successfully advocated for reentry reform legislation with bipartisan support—with the passage of a bill that will reduce driver’s license suspensions. GJP’s priorities for 2022 were aimed at #GettingGeorgiansBacktoWork and enjoyed the support of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Metro Atlanta Chamber. We will continue to partner next year to expand access to expungement and reduce barriers to occupational
licenses.

Passed a Bill that will Reduce Driver’s License Suspensions
Driver’s License Suspension Reform (passed in a substitute version of SB 10) was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp and took effect July 1, 2022. 105,000 driver’s licenses are suspended every year in Georgia—not because of dangerous driving—but because someone missed a traffic court date. Failing to Appear (FTA) for ANY traffic violation automatically results in a suspended driver’s license, but there are many reasons why someone might miss their court date. This new law will allow a judge to stop a suspension before it starts and provide an easier path to reinstatement for people whose license was suspended for an FTA. Current law requires full adjudication and payment of all fines, fees, assessments, and a Department of Driver’s Services (DDS) fee before a person can get their license back. The new law will allow a judge to reinstate a license without full payment and adjudication and to waive the reinstatement fee.

Why does this matter? 79% of Georgians drive to work. Almost half of people who lose their driver’s license lose their job, and 50,000 arrests are made annually for driving on a suspended license. FTA suspensions do not improve public safety. Instead, suspensions start a cycle of deeper poverty through job loss, arrests, more fines, and less ability to pay court debt, and more barriers to reclaiming the license. This bill will help Georgians keep and regain their driver’s licenses so they can drive to work and support their families. It will also save 450,000 law enforcement hours that are spent annually on these non-safety related arrests.

Built Momentum and Support for Expanding Access to Expungement
The belief that a person’s criminal record should not haunt them for the rest of their life has always been at the heart of GJP’s policy work. SB 257 would have improved upon SB 288 (passed 2020), but despite passing the Senate and the House committee, it didn’t get a final vote before the session ended. GJP will be back at it next year working with our business and community partners to improve record clearing so more Georgians can get a job, support their families, and contribute to the economy. We will advocate in 2023 and beyond to expand eligibility for record clearing for rehabilitated individuals who have a felony conviction, and to streamline and simply the process--ultimately moving Georgia towards automating the process with “clean slate” practices to create equitable access to record clearing.

Built Momentum and Support for Reducing Barriers to Occupational Licensing
GJP continues our work to reduce barriers to meaningful work in licensed professions. SR 376 would have created a Senate study committee on occupational licensing. While it didn’t pass, GJP will convene interested organizations to jointly advocate for reforms that will reduce barriers to quality jobs and economic mobility. 1 in 7 jobs in Georgia
require an occupational license. More than 4.5 million people have a Georgia criminal record, and even when records are old, pardoned, or expunged, licensing applicants face barriers. Lack of clarity over how records will be considered discourages qualified would-be applicants, and people who are denied licenses lack avenues for appeal and future
applications. We hope Georgia will follow the lead of Mississippi, North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, and other states that have recently enacted reforms to reduce barriers to the licensed fields, especially in high-demand industries.

georgia criminal justice reform

Want to get involved in making positive change for Georgia?

We would love to keep you updated and provide you with information you need to stay informed and advocate for your community. Here are ways you can help:

  • Sign up for policy updates, notifications about events and trainings, and advocacy action alerts.
  • Share your story. If you have been impacted by the issues we mention above we want to hear from you. Legislators need to hear from those with lived experience.

For more information about our current policy agenda or to share your story, please contact:

Policy Manager Wade Askew
Email: Wade@GJP.org

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