ACLU NorCal advocates for a criminal justice system that fosters community safety by reducing incarceration and criminalization. We work to ensure that constitutional rights apply to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, economics, or involvement with the criminal justice system. We advocate for criminal law reforms, including pretrial, sentencing, and parole reforms, ending the death penalty, and ensuring that police and prosecutors are accountable to the communities that they serve.
What You Need to Know
Police officers wield enormous power to detain, search, arrest, and use force, including deadly force. Abuse of that authority results in oppression, overexposure to the criminal justice system, and unnecessary injury and death – impacts borne overwhelmingly by people in poor and black and brown communities. ACLU NorCal fights to make police departments transparent, fair, and accountable to the communities they serve.
The absence of strong, well-resourced indigent defense systems offends the Constitution, leads to deeply unfair results, and contributes to our overburdened and wasteful jail and prison systems. Through litigation and advocacy, we work to ensure that states invest in statewide indigent defense systems that provide constitutionally effective representation to low-income defendants.
After an arrest — wrongful or not — a person’s ability to leave jail and return home to fight the charges depends on money. That's because, in most states, people are required to pay cash bail. Originally, bail was supposed to make sure people return to court to face charges against them. But instead, the money bail system has morphed into widespread wealth-based incarceration.
Prosecutors are the most influential actors in the criminal justice system. They have almost unlimited power to push for more punishment, often in ways that are largely hidden from public view. This focus on obtaining convictions and securing severe prison sentences, instead of addressing the root causes of crime, is a major driver of incarceration that compounds racial disparities throughout the justice system. ACLU NorCal works to ensure that prosecutors are accountable to the communities they serve and to the principles of fairness, equal protection and due process. We work to alter the culture of DA offices so they prioritize justice and true community safety over punishment and incarceration.
The ACLU believes that the death penalty inherently violates the Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment as well as Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law. Nowhere are the consequences of a broken criminal justice system more severe than in administration of the death penalty; and nowhere is it more evident that race plays a major role in who is charged, convicted and executed.