Research & Publications

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

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Research & Analysis

Racial Justice Demands That Every Vote Is Counted

Anticipating the unprecedented surge in absentee ballots in this election, the ACLU Analytics team generated estimates of absentee voting volume by race and candidate support by vote-method in every county in the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. The team combined data gathered by a nationwide representative tracking survey conducted by YouGov with turnout modeling based on updated in-cycle ballot data to construct estimates through statistical modeling.

Our findings identify which counties potentially face the largest racial representation gap — that is, if the absentee ballot count is not completed, they will cause the biggest disenfranchisement of voters of color. What happens in these counties may well change the course and outcome of the election.

Issue Areas: Voting Rights

Research & Analysis

Is Sex Work Decriminalization the Answer? What the Research Tells Us

The ACLU’s Research Brief, “Is Sex Work Decriminalization the Answer? What the Research Tells Us,” reviews existing empirical research on the impacts of decriminalization — and conversely criminalization — of sex work to inform recommendations for policy and practice. The ACLU has a history of supporting the decriminalization of sex work, but as efforts for U.S. legislative reform at the local, state, and federal level grow, examining the potential impacts of proposed policies is critical. Developed in consultation with local affiliates and sex worker organizers, this Brief provides an assessment of the growing evidence base on the potential benefits and harms of the decriminalization of consensual sex work (including buyer-only criminalization and full criminalization) and concludes with specific recommendations for policymakers, law enforcement, advocates, and researchers.

Issue Areas: Criminal Law Reform

Research & Analysis

The Other Epidemic: Fatal Police Shootings in the Time of COVID-19

This ACLU research report, “The Other Epidemic: Fatal Police Shootings in the Time of COVID-19,” examines whether circumstances surrounding the public health crisis — unprecedented societal isolation combined with relaxed police department routine enforcement — has led to a change in the frequency with which the police fatally shoot people in the U.S. Using data from The Washington Post’s “Fatal Force” database, this report provides national and state-level data on fatal shootings by police since 2015, including during COVID-19. Our analysis reveals that the police have continued to fatally shoot people at the same rate during the first six months of 2020 as they did over the same period from 2015 to 2019. The report also demonstrates that Black, Native American/Indigenous, and Latinx people are still more likely than white people to be shot and killed by police. The report puts forth a set of recommendations designed to reduce police departments’ role, presence, responsibilities, and funding, including dramatically transforming use-of-force laws, and instead reinvest into community-based services that are better suited to respond to actual community needs. These measures can lead to a reduction in police interactions, and in turn, help put an end to racist police violence.

Issue Areas: Criminal Law Reform

Research & Analysis

Failing Grades: States’ Responses to COVID-19 in Jails & Prisons

When the pandemic struck, it was obvious what needed to be done: take all actions possible to “flatten the curve.” This was especially urgent in prisons and jails, which are crowded facilities where social distancing is impossible, sanitation is poor, and medical resources are extremely limited. Public health experts warned that the consequences of inaction or inadequate response were dire: prisons and jails would become petri dishes where, once inside, COVID-19 would spread rapidly, cause illness and death, and then boomerang back out to the surrounding communities with greater force than ever before.

Due to long-standing and systemic racial disparities in the criminal legal system, advocates knew it would disproportionately be poor people of color in prisons and jails whose lives were on the line. So when faced with this test, how did leading officials fare? In this report, the ACLU and Prison Policy Initiative evaluate each state’s actions to save incarcerated people and facility staff from COVID-19. The findings are startling. Despite clear information and calls for action, state responses ranged from disorganized or ineffective to just callously nonexistent. The data in this report reveals that no state has done enough and that all states failed to implement a cohesive, system-wide response to protect and save lives.

Issue Areas: Smart Justice

Research & Analysis

Flattening the Curve: Why Reducing Jail Populations is Key to Beating COVID-19

COVID-19 could claim the lives of approximately 100,000 more people than current projections stipulate if jail populations are not dramatically and immediately reduced, according to a new epidemiological model released by the ACLU and academic research partners. The findings indicate that — even if communities across the United States continue practicing social distancing and following public health guidance — we will still experience much higher death rates if no substantial action is taken to reduce jail populations. The United States’ unique obsession with incarceration has become our Achilles heel when it comes to combatting the spread of COVID-19.

The ACLU model used data pulled from more than 1,200 midsize and large jail systems around the country, whose surrounding communities account for 90 percent of the U.S. population. It found that, unequivocally, keeping people out of jail saves lives — both inside the jail and in the surrounding community. Lives are at stake. The time to act is now.

Issue Areas: Smart Justice

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