Dismantling discriminatory systems through public education and legal action

Grantee Cohort Spring 2020, Spring 2021

Location National

“The criminal justice system must be reformed. It must be dramatically altered to maximize public safety, minimize its cost to taxpayers and ensure that justice is served — for the victims of crimes, the individuals who commit them and for society at large.” – Anthony Romero, executive director, ACLU (Politico Magazine)

The ACLU is committed to getting as many people out of pretrial detention as possible and, in the process, ending wealth-based pretrial incarceration. To do that, it will leverage its partnership with Art for Justice to focus on bail reform via litigation, public education, and organizing. It will specifically bolster efforts in Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Despite the pandemic, it made significant advancements in planned efforts for its previous Art for Justice partnership.

The ACLU of Louisiana launched the “Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial” initiative to combat racially discriminatory policing practices and thereby reduce pretrial incarceration. With support from 46 law firms and 18 legal clinics, the ACLU of Louisiana will represent up to 1,000 Black and Brown Louisianans who have experienced racially motivated police misconduct.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania worked aggressively to protect the health and lives of incarcerated people during the pandemic, filing four major lawsuits and sending numerous letters to stakeholders demanding the release of medically vulnerable people from county jails and state prisons.

The ACLU of Ohio launched its fiscal impact analysis of bail reform. This report – which took two years of relationship building and data analysis – revealed that Ohio could save $199 to $264 million each year by implementing commonsense bail reform. The reforms outlined in the report could reduce the state’s jail population by about 8,000 people.

The ACLU of Michigan made progress in settlement negotiations in its 2019 lawsuit against a court in Detroit, with a resolution expected in the coming months, and criminal courts began implementing recommendations the affiliate made as part of the Michigan Task Force on Jails and Pretrial Incarceration, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer convened in 2020 in part because of the lawsuit. The ACLU of Michigan also helped lead coalition efforts to urge Gov. Whitmer and local jails to reduce prison and jail populations amid the pandemic, and according to the Prison Project Report, Michigan saw a 27 percent reduction in its jail population and just under a 3 percent reduction in its prison population.