In honor of National Celebration of Pro Bono Week, Georgia Justice Project (GJP) and the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (GACDL) would like to recognize the efforts of the GACDL members volunteering to help Georgians move past their criminal record through the Freedom Expungement Project. The Project, which launched in July, has mobilized and trained GACDL members to represent Georgians pro bono on criminal records issues, with the goal of breaking down barriers to jobs, housing, and other opportunities for Georgians impacted by the criminal legal system.
There is a great need for pro bono legal assistance with record clearing in our state; over 4.3 million people have a Georgia criminal history – approximately 40% of adults. Through 35 years of service, GJP has served countless individuals whose lives are still impacted by mistakes they made years (sometimes decades) prior. GJP has relied on volunteer attorneys for years, but the need for assistance has grown exponentially this year.
In 2020, GJP led the Second Chance for Georgia campaign and successfully advocated for Senate Bill 288, which went into effect January 1st, 2021. GACDL was an important partner in advancing this legislation – GACDL’s members are on the front lines of representing individuals with pending cases and see the lingering barriers that exist long after the case is resolved. Under SB 288, for the first time, Georgia is recognizing rehabilitation. Individuals can have up to two misdemeanor convictions and some pardoned felony convictions restricted and sealed (a process most people know as expungement) after a crime-free number of years. The Freedom Expungement Project and efforts like it help meet this rapidly growing need for lawyers to provide record clearing services to newly eligible Georgians.
“For the first time in Georgia’s history, SB 288 creates a path for those with a conviction to move beyond their criminal history,” says Erin Donohue-Koehler, Pro Bono Coordinator for GJP. “This wonderful progress, however, has uncovered a daunting challenge – at a minimum 1.5 million people are now eligible to take advantage of this record clearing law and completely clear their record, and many of them are reaching out to GJP for help. GACDL members have stepped up to help meet this need through the Freedom Expungement Project.”
Thus far, the Freedom Expungement Project has recruited 50 volunteer criminal defense attorneys, who are currently serving individuals across 15 Georgia counties, and hopes to grow that number. Volunteers with this project are representing eligible Georgians pro bono on restriction and sealing of their criminal records, filing retroactive first offender petitions, and applying for pardons, all with the goal of helping people move on and strengthening our communities.
“Public outreach and a commitment to quality representation are key tenants of GACDL’s mission and when GACDL members provide pro bono representation through programs like GJP’s Freedom Expungement Project, they are living out that mission as they bring meaningful change to individual lives like enhanced housing and employment access. GACDL is honored to play a role in such critical work.”
Both GACDL and GJP believe pro bono is a critical way for attorneys in our state to give back to their communities and provide a much-needed service for those trapped in the cycle of poverty and criminal legal involvement. The organizations invite Georgia attorneys interested to join this effort. For more information, visit GJP.org/ways-to-support/volunteer or contact Erin Donohue-Koehler at Erin@GJP.org.
For 35 years, Georgia Justice Project (GJP) has served Georgians impacted by the criminal legal system. GJP approaches social change in three ways: through legal and social services – including holistic criminal defense, early termination of probation, criminal record clearing, and other reentry services; by advocating for a better Georgia, resulting in 21 changes to Georgia law so far; and by educating communities statewide on criminal justice and reentry issues. These approaches advance GJP’s goals to lower the number of Georgians under correctional control and reduce barriers to reentry.
Since 1974, the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has sought to promote fairness and justice by providing an appropriate state organization representing those lawyers who are actively engaged in the defense of criminal case, resisting proposed legislation or rules which would curtail such rights and to promote sound alternatives, promoting educational activities to improve the skills and knowledge of lawyers engaged in the defense of criminal cases, improving the judicial system and to urge the selection and appointment to the bench of well-qualified and experienced lawyers, improving the correctional system and to seek more effective rehabilitation opportunities for those convicted of crimes, and promoting constant improvement in the administration of criminal justice.
For more information, please contact:
Georgia Justice Project
Desk: 404-827-0027 ext. 215