ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project

The Criminal Law Reform Project is a division of the national ACLU. Formed in 2010 out of the Drug Law Reform Project, the Criminal Law Reform Project seeks an end to excessively harsh crime policies that result in mass incarceration and criminalization and stand in the way of a just, equal, and humane society.  To reduce the number of people entering the criminal punishment system, CLRP focuses on preventing over-incarceration and over-criminalization at the “front end” of that system.  We fulfill our mission through strategic litigation and advocacy that promotes reform and challenges racism within the criminal punishment system. 

The Project’s current priorities are: creating robust statewide indigent defense systems to ensure that people charged with a crime have access to effective assistance of counsel; ending unnecessary and unjust pretrial detention through bail reform and other abusive pretrial practices; reforming unconstitutional and racially biased police practices; challenging prosecutorial abuses of power that result in or enable regressive and unconstitutional practices; reforming our nation’s punitive drug policies, which have failed to achieve public safety and health while eroding constitutional rights and criminalizing unprecedented numbers of people, particularly people of color; and reclaiming equal protection of the laws and guaranteeing substantive and procedural due process protections at each stage of the arrest-to-sentencing process of criminal cases. CLRP works closely with the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, which collaborates with partners to build a movement for social change, promote racial justice, and win state-based reforms needed to cut the size of our nation’s incarcerated population by 50 percent.

The Project’s legal strategies are built on the idea that fighting for civil rights means more than just persuading judges. It means partnering with impacted people and communities and changing hearts and minds. We work on the frontlines with communities most affected by overincarceration to integrate litigation with innovative public education campaigns and to develop tools to help these communities demand justice.

The Project has an unparalleled track record, having successfully litigated issues ranging from racial profiling in drug law enforcement to ending wealth-based pretrial detention to challenging prosecutorial abuses of power to protecting medical marijuana users from prosecution. We will continue that tradition of success, combining litigation, education, and community empowerment to achieve humane, racially just, and sensible policies that respect basic human rights and the liberties enshrined in our nation’s Constitution.

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