2021 Legislative Preview
This week, the Georgia General Assembly convened and met for the first four of the 40 legislative days in the 2021 legislative session. As usual, we will work with partners, lawmakers and other stakeholders to promote racial justice, fight mass incarceration and the criminalization of poverty, and protect the dignity of those ensnared in the criminal legal system.
This session, SCHR will focus on the impact of COVID-19 on people who are incarcerated, and addressing laws that sanction violence against Black people and other marginalized communities. To these ends, we will be working on the following in 2021:
- Pandemic Transparency and Accountability in Prisons
People incarcerated in Georgia’s prisons since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic have reported appalling conditions: insufficient personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, overcrowded facilities that allow no space for social distancing, inadequate testing, and an overreliance on lockdowns and isolation. For advocates outside of those facilities, obtaining reliable and up-to-date information regarding GDC’s protocols for slowing the spread of the virus and providing adequate treatment for those who are sick has been unnecessarily difficult. To promote transparency and accountability during the current (and any future) public health emergency, SCHR has drafted a legislative proposal that would require the GDC to report changes to policies and practices in responding to a pandemic within 30 days after the declaration of a public health state of emergency.
- Repeal of Citizens’ Arrest
For decades, this antiquated policy has emboldened vigilante violence, often motivated by racial bias; most recently, the killers of Ahmaud Arbery claimed to be acting under the authorization of the citizen’s arrest law. The proposal to repeal citizen’s arrest has been supported by members of both political parties, and in his State of the State address on January 14, Governor Kemp announced that his administration plans to introduce legislation to accomplish this goal.
This session we will also support our partners as they lead other legislative efforts aimed at reducing harms caused by the criminal legal system. The Georgia Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers (GACDL) is working on proposed legislation that will allow people facing criminal prosecution to have the same protections that civil litigants have to exclude unreliable expert testimony. Additionally, a coalition of organizations will support the Women’s CARE Act, sponsored by Rep. Kim Schofield, which would defer the start of a pregnant woman’s prison sentence until 12 weeks after she has given birth, to promote better infant and maternal health.
In addition to advocating on the above policy reforms this session, SCHR, in partnership with RestoreHER, will also work this year to build support for eliminating solitary confinement in Georgia jails and prisons. Working closely with survivors of solitary confinement in the coming months, we will educate lawmakers and the public about the true impact of isolation on the health of those who are incarcerated as well as their capacity for meaningful rehabilitation. We expect that our efforts this year will lay the groundwork for a successful legislative proposal in 2022.
Finally, SCHR is prepared to support efforts in 2021 to adopt evidence-based reforms to the criminal and juvenile legal systems, and to oppose proposals that will perpetuate or exacerbate mass incarceration, the death penalty, and the criminalization of poverty. In particular, we’ll be watching for proposals which expand protections for and authority of law enforcement officers, the expansion of cash bail, and punitive responses to car stunt shows or political demonstrations.
We already have several events on the books to engage the public and lawmakers about our legislative priorities:
Intro to the 2021 Session: On Tuesday, Jan. 19, SCHR will host an introductory webinar to inform the public about the legislative process, provide tips for legislative advocacy in 2021, and share what we’ll be working on this session. That event will be livestreamed on our Facebook page next Tuesday, January 19 at 9:30 a.m.
Talk Justice Tuesdays Series (Jan. 26 – Mar. 16): The Justice Reform Partnership will host the Talk Justice Tuesday series again this year to bring people together on most Tuesdays during the session to discuss specific issues and thoughtful solutions about the things most important to communities impacted by criminal legal systems and identify strategies for moving forward. These sessions will be virtual and you can find more information on the Justice Reform Partnership website.
Justice Day 2021 – Where Do We Go from Here: Community Out of Chaos (Feb. 25): The JRP will host our biggest advocacy event of the year. This is the tenth anniversary of Justice Day at the Georgia Capitol and will again gather impacted people, policy experts, community organizers, state and local lawmakers, and everyday people interested in the issues to learn about criminal legal reforms in 2021, build and strengthen relationships, and advocate for change to elected officials. This event will also be virtual, and more information will soon be posted on the Justice Reform Partnership website.
We’ll keep you updated on our priorities throughout the legislative session, as well as how you can support our efforts. Sign up to receive our legislative updates in your inbox.