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

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Every day, our clients’ experiences show us how a range of systems pull people into the legal system and leave them with a record that follows for life – no matter the seriousness of the alleged offense or what that person has done since. We also know that these systems do not affect everyone equally. Aggressive policing and arrest policies, harsh and discriminatory sentencing practices, and unequal application of laws that impose barriers to reentry disproportionately harm communities of color. All this leads to 4.5 million people with a Georgia criminal record who face a lifetime of perpetual punishment. 

GJP believes a better Georgia is possible. When our clients encounter systemic barriers, we strive to correct them. Since 2012, we have successfully advocated for 22 changes to Georgia law that have impacted millions by reducing the number of people under correctional control and removing barriers to reentry.  

Today, our policy work continues as it began: rooted in direct service. In 2009, we first entered into policy advocacy out of our representation of individuals denied housing vouchers due to their criminal record. Since then, we have expanded access to record clearing (including expungement, known as “restriction and sealing” in Georgia), improved Georgia’s First Offender law, created an automated system to terminate probation early, opened eligibility for receipt of Food Stamps, created access to licensed professions, limited unnecessary driver’s license suspensions, and both protected and rewarded employers who engage in second chance hiring. 

Core to our approach is collaboration. We work with allies across the private and public sectors, from corporations to non-profits to government. From 2011 to 2019, GJP worked closely with the Council on Criminal Justice Reform under Governor Nathan Deal, sitting alongside diverse interests and lawmakers to advance an era of reform. In 2020, 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. A year later, we worked closely with state agencies and advocates to draft and advocate for Senate Bill 105, expanding the ability of people on felony probation to terminate their probation early. We continue to take a pragmatic and evidence-based approach to policy advocacy with a broad range of bipartisan stakeholders.  

Also key to our work is engagement with Georgia corporations, small businesses, and chambers of commerce. Although access to steady employment is the undisputed key to successful reentry, 72% of collateral consequences impose barriers to work. That is why much of our advocacy has focused on reducing barriers to employment, and we work closely with partners to further that goal. 

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. 

georgia criminal justice policy advocacy

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

  • Expungement: make record clearing work better for more Georgians. After several rounds of reform, many Georgians can now restrict and seal records of non-convictions, most misdemeanor convictions, and many pardoned felonies. However, current law still leaves out many rehabilitated Georgians, whether because they are ineligible for relief or they cannot access the court process. Georgia must broaden relief based on evidence-based practices and join the movement for Clean Slate reform to automatically expunge certain records after a number of conviction-free years. 
  • Probation: 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 they meet certain criteria, but there is much work to be done to ensure the law is implemented for maximum impact. Georgia continues to have the longest probation sentences in the country; many of Georgia’s neighboring states limit the length of probation sentences, and Georgia should join them.
  • Fair chance occupational licensing. Old and irrelevant criminal records are often used to exclude individuals from educational and career opportunities. 1 in 7 Georgia jobs – including 25% of the state’s highest-demand jobs – requires licensing. Excluding Georgians with a record creates barriers to equity and economic mobility, harms employers who desperately need to fill skilled positions, and increases recidivism by posing another obstacle to steady employment. 
  • Bringing victim-centered practices to Georgia.  Georgia needs a variety of tools to address harm. Restorative Justice is a victim-centered and victim-led process, guided by trauma-informed facilitators, in which all parties affected by an incident identify and address harms. Defendants have the opportunity to assume accountability and help those they have hurt while in some cases preventing being given a life-long criminal record. Legislation is needed to allow these programs to thrive, which reduce recidivism and have superior victim satisfaction rates than the traditional legal system 
  • Removing barriers to reentry through reforming detainers. Soon before being released from prison, many Georgians find out that instead of going home or to a transitional setting, they will instead be transferred to a county jail to clear up an old case, warrant, or probation issue – even though the cause for transfer occurred years ago and should have been resolved during the individual’s incarceration. Georgia should follow the example of states throughout the country to ensure such obstacles are addressed while an individual is serving a prison sentence, making for a smoother transition upon their release date. 
  • Reduce disproportionate consequences of traffic court.  A driver’s license is essential to employment, yet Georgia suspends more than 200,000 driver’s licenses each year for reasons unrelated to unsafe driving. What’s more, an inability to pay a minor traffic ticket leads to probation sentences for the many Georgians who cannot afford a sudden financial cost. We can eliminate unnecessary license suspensions and create better ways to hold drivers accountable, support workers, and benefit the economy. 
  • 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 sentence for a felony conviction 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 know that their right to vote is automatically restored when their sentence is complete.  

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. Legislators need to hear from those with lived experience. If you have been impacted by these issues, we want to hear from you.

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

Policy Manager Wade Askew
Email: Wade@GJP.org

Georgia Justice Project