Georgia Justice Project is working to change Georgia’s counter-productive laws that keep the 4.3 million people with a criminal record (the majority of whom are low-wealth) from becoming economically self-sufficient following an arrest or conviction.
Georgia Justice Project’s 2019 Policy Recommendations
Expand mechanisms for the restriction and sealing of certain conviction information from criminal histories.
- Georgia’s current law is very limited compared to other states. Restriction and sealing is primarily for non-convictions, and only convictions that occurred before the individual was 21 years old are eligible for expungement.
- Convictions stay on an individuals’ record for life and create barriers to employment and housing long after the sentence ends, regardless of an individual’s rehabilitation.
- Expanding expungement will allow rehabilitated individuals with certain convictions to petition the court for restriction and sealing after a period of conviction-free years.
- Giving rehabilitated individuals a second chance will increase job opportunities and reduce recidivism, which will in turn benefit business and enhance public safety.
- Our policy objective follows the 2018 recommendations of the Council on Criminal Justice Reform to allow expungement of certain older convictions.
Amend Georgia’s child support policies to acknowledge the challenges of low-income, justice-involved parents and children.
- Georgia’s child support guidelines fail to recognize the challenges of low-income and justice-involved families, thereby producing orders that exceed people’s ability to pay. Orders that go beyond what parents can pay create cycles of debt and poverty, harming families and children.
- Current enforcement policies punish parents who cannot pay excessive court orders by suspending licenses and jailing for civil contempt. Limiting such harsh measures would prevent job loss, recidivism, and increased debt.
- Setting a limit on orders for low-income parents (self-sufficiency reserve) and preventing courts from assuming (imputing) income will produce more reasonable orders and increase collection of child support.
- Simplifying the modification process and instituting automatic review and modification for incarcerated parents will allow low-income parents to develop economic self-sufficiency and care for their children.
Policy Implementation & Education
- Engage with housing providers and stakeholders to reduce barriers to housing for individuals with a criminal record.
- We are promoting statewide education to ensure compliance with federal guidelines, including HUD’s November 2015 and April 2016 Guidances, which laid out substantial limitations to the consideration of criminal records in public and private housing decisions.
- We are collaborating with other non-profit organizations (including ACLU-GA, ACLU National, GA Legal Service Program, and Atlanta Legal Aid) to dismantle crime-free housing programs, which engage in overbroad, discriminatory, and illegal tenant screening policies.
- We convened a group of advocates, service providers, experts, and stakeholders to propose and develop strategies to improve housing opportunities for individuals with a criminal record and submit recommendations to the Council on Criminal Justice Reform during the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions. See here for more information about the Reentry Housing Working Group.
- Expand employment opportunities for people with a criminal record by collaborating with the business community and community stakeholders.
- We are engaging with employers to understand the obstacles they face in hiring individuals with a criminal record and to seek guidance on policy solutions that will reduce barriers.
- We convened a group of advocates, service providers, and other employment stakeholders to develop and propose strategies to improve employment opportunities for individuals with a criminal record and submit recommendations to the Council on Criminal Justice Reform during the 2018 legislative session. See here for more information about our work on employment.
- Monitor the implementation of Governor Deal’s Ban the Box Executive Order (signed 2015).
- Ban the Box is a fair hiring initiative that removes questions about criminal history from the original application for state employment and postpones the background check until the interview stage. We are working with the Department of Administrative Services to ensure the timely and complete implementation of this rule.
- Monitor the Department of Community Supervision’s (DCS) and Department of Corrections’ (DOC) distribution of a program and treatment completion certificate.
- Program and Treatment Completion certificates are available to people coming out of prison and people on probation that have completed certain reentry programs, and create a presumption of due care in hiring or leasing for the certificate holder.
- Monitor the DCS’s and DOC’s creation and distribution of a certificate of sentence completion.
- We are working with DCS and DOC to ensure the creation and distribution of a certificate of sentence completion that certifies to employers, landlords, lenders, schools, and others that a person has fully completed their sentence and is under no further obligation to the state.
- Monitor the effective administration of Georgia’s record restriction statutes.
- The 2012 record restriction law (Ga. Code Ann. 35-3-37) expanded access to restriction for non-convictions and allowed restriction of certain misdemeanor convictions for Youthful Offenders. The law improved the process, reduced the costs to applicants, and allowed restricted charges to be sealed so they cannot be reported by private background check companies.
- A 2018 revision simplified the process for special restriction petitions, such as Youthful Offender, and reduced the financial burden on applicants for Retroactive First Offender.
- We continue working to educate the jurisdictions that have not yet implemented the new requirements that went into law.
- Monitor the implementation of recent reforms to Georgia’s First Offender Act.
- Eligible individuals must be informed about their first offender eligibility either by their attorney or the court. If individuals who would have been eligible for First Offender at the time of their sentencing were not aware of their eligibility, they may be retroactively sentenced as a first offender.
- Judges have the authority to restrict First Offender records at the time of sentencing and to seal court and jail records for successful first offenders.
- We are promoting education around judicial discretion to grant retroactive First Offender treatment and proper prosecutorial discretion in situations that permit retroactive First Offender treatment, and to ensure the expedient modification of reported First Offender status updates by Clerks of Court.
- Monitor the implementation of applying Ban the Box to Occupational Licensing.
- We are working to ensure that Georgia licensing boards are implementing Ban the Box principles in considering applicants for state occupational licenses. Boards are required to consider a conviction’s relevance to the license sought, the time elapsed since the conviction, and the nature of the conviction.