Georgia Justice Project is working to change Georgia’s counter-productive laws that keep the 4.2 million people with a criminal record (the majority of whom are low-wealth) from becoming economically self-sufficient following an arrest or conviction.
GJP has three core strategies for our advocacy work:
1. We build a base of subject matter expertise by serving people with criminal records and doing research on current and model laws.
Over 30 years, GJP has provided legal representation for low-wealth clients. GJP’s staff helps them address the underlying issues that may have led to their involvement with the criminal justice system in the first place. GJP’s social services team works alongside staff attorneys to offer comprehensive support services, which might include individual, group or family counseling, substance abuse intervention, educational assistance, job readiness assessment and job search.
Since 2008, GJP’s work has included the Coming Home Program, which specifically serves individuals struggling to find employment and housing due to criminal records issues. GJP helps its clients restrict (expunge) and seal records, if possible, and assists clients in securing employment and housing despite a criminal record. Through this work, GJP has acquired a wealth of subject matter expertise in the challenges encountered by individuals with criminal records–and the legislative opportunities for change. Out of our direct service grows our understanding of the systematic barriers that keep our clients from accessing opportunity. We use this knowledge to inform the broader advocacy efforts we undertake.
GJP also researches the laws in Georgia and in the surrounding Southern states. In 2009, we helped publish a book, Collateral Consequences of Arrest and Convictions: Policy and Law in Georgia. Using this book as a guidepost, we are expanding our efforts to include comparable law around the South and model legislation around the country.
2. We educate people about what we’ve learned.
GJP uses its expertise to educate low-wealth individuals, nonprofit organizations, Prosecutors, judges, and others about the collateral consequences of having a criminal record in Georgia. We believe that education is critical to ensuring lasting change–both in cultural attitudes and in the law. We also have formed deeper partnerships with a few key organizations that broaden the impact of the work – including StepUp Savannah, Center for Working Families, Georgia Stand-Up, and United Way.
GJP’s education efforts help us secure grassroots support for change, allies in the legal profession, and a network of like-minded nonprofits in the Southeast with whom we can share best practices (New Southern Strategies Coalition). This strategy was critical in organizing support for HB1176 – the bill to change the state’s record restriction law, passed in 2012.
3. We show value to legislators by providing subject matter expertise and guidance.
GJP uses the learnings from its direct services to guide its policy work, which aims to remove the legal barriers faced by those with a criminal record. GJP has established itself as a subject matter expert with legislators by providing factual data and first-hand testimony about the impact of Georgia’s laws on low-wealth individuals with a criminal record. In the debate over HB1176, GJP’s research and the testimony of its clients were instrumental in helping to pass this bill with broad bipartisan support.