Research & Publications

Access in-depth resources and analysis published by the ACLU regarding our most pressing civil liberties issues.

All Publications

Research & Analysis

In For a Penny: The Rise of America's New Debtors' Prisons

This ACLU report presents the results of a yearlong investigation into modern-day “debtors’ prisons,” and shows that poor defendants are being jailed at increasingly alarming rates for failing to pay legal debts they can never hope to afford. The report details how across the country, in the face of mounting budget deficits, states are more aggressively going after poor people who have already served their criminal sentences. These modern-day debtors’ prisons impose devastating human costs, waste taxpayer money and resources, undermine our criminal justice system, are racially skewed, and create a two-tiered system of justice.

Incarcerating people simply because they cannot afford to pay their legal debts not only is unconstitutional but it has a devastating impact upon men and women, whose only crime is that they are poor. The sad truth is that debtors’ prisons are flourishing today, more than two decades after the Supreme Court prohibited imprisoning those who are too poor to pay their legal debts. This report seeks to document the realities of today’s debtors’ prisons and to provide state and local governments and courts with a more sensible path – one where they no longer will be compelled to fund their criminal justice systems on the backs of the poor, and one where the promise of equal protection under the law for the poor and affluent alike will finally be realized.

Table of Contents


Key Findings5




I. LFOs in New Orleans17

II. Special Focus: New Orleans’ Broken Funding Scheme for Its Criminal Justice System25

III. Recommendations28


I. LFOs in Michigan29

II. Special Focus: Michigan’s Recent Shift Toward Aggressive Collections38

III. Recommendations41


I. LFOs in Ohio43

II. Special Focus: Ohio’s Municipal & Mayor’s Courts and “Pay-to-Stay” Programs52

III. Recommendations54


I. LFOs in Georgia55

II. Special Focus: Georgia’s For-Profit Probation Companies59

III. Recommendations64


I. LFOs in Washington State65

II. Special Focus: Four Case Studies of Men and Women and Their Lifetime Struggle to Manage Their Legal Debts69

III. Recommendations79


Research & Analysis

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Redistricting But Were Afraid To Ask

This is the second edition of our pamphlet which attempts to answer some of the questions most frequently asked about redistricting. The law in the voting area is always evolving and different courts often interpret the same laws differently. If you have a specific question about redistricting or a problem not adequately covered in this pamphlet, you should seek legal advice.

Redistricting is not something best left to the politicians and the experts. Every voter has a vital stake in redistricting because it determines the composition of districts that elect public officials at every level of government. Given the advances in modern map drawing technology, it is now possible for everyone to participate directly in the redistricting process. But to be an effective player, you need to know the rules of the game which are discussed in this pamphlet.

For more information or assistance in redistricting, contact the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project or the other organizations listed in the appendix at the end of this pamphlet.

Issue Areas: Voting Rights

Research & Analysis

Deportation by Default: Mental Disability, Unfair Hearings, and Indefinite Detention in the US Immigration System

This report was researched and written by Sarah Mehta, Aryeh Neier fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union.

From the report summary:

The US immigration court system is complicated and adversarial at the best of times. But it may be particularly confusing for people with mental disabilities, who may find it hard to follow proceedings, or provide credible evidence to lawyers and judges, especially without legal representation and adequate support.

This report — based on 104 interviews with non-citizens with mental disabilities, their family members, social workers, psychiatrists, immigration attorneys, judges and rights advocates — documents the lack of meaningful safeguards for people with mental disabilities facing possible deportation from the United States. Deficiencies exist throughout the arrest, detention, removal, and deportation process, violating the human rights of affected individuals and offending both American and international standards of justice. The shortcomings include no right to appointed counsel; inflexible detention policies; lack of substantive or operative guidance for attorneys and judges as to how courts should achieve fair hearings for people with mental disabilities; and inadequately coordinated care and social services to aid detainees while in custody and upon release.

This report also explores the implications of these failures. As immigration attorney Megan Bremer has noted, due process violations severely compromise the integrity of the US immigration justice system and undermine the ability of immigration courts to ensure accurate and just results:

Due process is part of judicial integrity. It’s a basic principle that this country has decided to prioritize. It’s one of our greatest exports — we send people all over the world to talk about rule of law and how to reform judicial systems but we’re not doing it here in our fastest growing judicial system [the immigration courts].

Not every non-citizen with a mental disability is entitled to remain in the United States; but everyone is entitled to a fair hearing and a chance to defend his or her rights. If the US government is going to detain and deport individuals with mental disabilities, it must do so in a way that respects their human rights, honors US human rights commitments, and ensures fair and accurate court decisions.

To download a podcast on this issue, including an interview with a former detainee, please visit:

To download a broadcast quality audio feature, please visit:

Author: Sarah Mehta (@sarahlmehta)

Press Coverage: Psychiatric News


Research & Analysis

Impairing Education: Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public Schools

Students with disabilities face corporal punishment in public schools at disproportionately high rates according to a new report by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch. Corporal punishment — ranging from paddling to smacking to throwing children into walls — can worsen these students’ medical conditions and undermine their education. Students with disabilities are entitled to appropriate, inclusive educational programs that give them the opportunity to thrive. No child should be hit, especially the most vulnerable.

Map: The use of corporal punishment on children with disabilities >>

Corporal punishment causes pain, humiliation, and in some cases deep bruising or other serious injury; it also can have long-lasting psychological consequences. Students with disabilities may see their underlying conditions worsened as a result. Furthermore, it creates a violent, degrading school environment in which all students – and particularly students with disabilities — may struggle to succeed. The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch call on the federal government and US states to prohibit corporal punishment. School districts should replace corporal punishment with effective, positive forms of discipline, so that children’s human rights are protected, and so that every student throughout the United States can maximize his or her academic potential.

Author: Alice Farmer (@ahsfarmer)

Press Coverage: The New York Times | CNN | BET | Reuters | The Wall Street Journal | USA Today | USA Today

Articles/Blogs Written By Author:Stop Beating Students with Disabilities in Schools” – The Huffington Post | Stop Beating Students with Disabilities in Schools” – ACLU | “Ohio Bans Corporal Punishment” – ACLU | “Stop Beating Children in Schools” – ACLU | “End Abusive, Discriminatory Discipline in Schools: Give All Students a Chance to Thrive” – ACLU | “Corporal punishment proves to be discriminatory, ineffective” – Human Rights Watch

Related Advocacy/Litigation:Ten Steps Against Corporal Punishment | Advocacy Letter: Ohio | Testimony: Dennis D. Parker – Before the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues Minorities and the Right to Education (12/15/2008)| Students with Disabilities Face Corporal Punishment at Higher Rates



Research & Analysis

Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity: Chilling Muslim Charitable Giving in the "War on Terrorism Financing"

This report documents the effect of U.S. government actions on American Muslims’ exercise of their right to profess and practice their religion through charitable giving. The ACLU’s research shows that U.S. terrorism financing policies and practices are seriously undermining American Muslims’ protected constitutional liberties and violating their fundamental human rights to freedom of religion, freedom of association, and freedom from discrimination.

The ACLU found that these policies and practices are neither fair nor effective, and are undermining American values of due process and fairness. This report outlines clear measures the Obama administration and Congress should take to ensure American Muslims can exercise their religion while protecting charities from mistaken targeting and abuse, and simultaneously promoting national security and humanitarian aid.

ACLU Magazine

Published twice a year, ACLU Magazine shares updates on the ACLU’s critical litigation and advocacy work across the country and tells the stories of the activists, attorneys, and clients at the heart of each case and campaign. To receive ACLU Magazine by mail, become a monthly donor today.

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.