ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project

The Criminal Law Reform Project is a division of the national ACLU. Our goal is to put an end to excessively harsh crime policies that result in mass incarceration and stand in the way of a just and equal society.

Founded in 1998 and formerly known as the Drug Law Reform Project, the Project focuses its work at the “front end” of the criminal justice system, from policing to sentencing, with an emphasis on ending our nation's punitive drug policies, which have failed to achieve public safety and health while putting unprecedented numbers of people behind bars and eroding constitutional rights. We fulfill our mission through strategic litigation and advocacy that promotes reform of the criminal justice system and drug laws in particular, reduces the number of people entering the system, and protects the constitutional rights of those in the system.

The Project's current priorities include: challenging police and prosecutorial misconduct and other government abuses of power; reducing reliance on incarceration, with a focus on decriminalizing drug offenses and shortening sentencing schemes overall; and reducing racial disparity in the criminal justice system through challenging the selective enforcement of criminal laws. In addition to these core priorities, the Project also works in the following areas: marijuana law reform, including protecting emerging rights of the seriously-ill to use medical marijuana; reducing the collateral consequences of drug convictions; and addressing the criminal justice implications of emerging surveillance technologies.

The Project’s legal strategies are built on the idea that fighting for civil rights means more than just persuading judges. It means 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 protecting medical marijuana users and their doctors from prosecution. We will continue that tradition of success, combining litigation, education, and community empowerment to achieve humane and sensible policies that respect basic human rights and the liberties enshrined in our nation’s Constitution.

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