Cody Cutting

  • Hosted by Southern Center for Human Rights
  • Sponsored by Lisa Foster and Alan Bersin
  • Service location Atlanta, Georgia
  • Law school New York University School of Law
  • Issue area Civil Rights/Civil Liberties
  • Fellowship class year 2019
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Cody’s Fellowship promoted equal access to pretrial diversion for low-income people in Atlanta who were charged with crimes. His project created a campaign for fair and affordable diversion services that could be replicated elsewhere in Georgia and beyond.

In theory, pretrial diversion is a laudable effort to channel people accused of minor offenses out of the criminal system. In practice, it is often blatantly discriminatory, permitting people of means to buy their way out of criminal charges while excluding those unable to pay substantial diversion fees. To make matters worse, in Georgia, and in Atlanta in particular, those fees are pocketed by private companies that function with little to no oversight. To maximize profits, the companies charge exorbitant fees and avoid indigency findings. Instead of granting all who qualify a second chance, privatized diversion penalizes thousands of Atlantans for their poverty, leading disproportionately to conviction, incarceration, and life-long consequences for those without the means to afford it.

With this project, Cody returned to the Southern Center for Human Rights, where he interned while fighting for the rights of the accused and the incarcerated. Through his experience in Atlanta, Cody observed how contact with the criminal legal system falls heaviest on low-income Georgians, primarily people of color, and he became determined to elevate the voices and rights of these communities.

Fellowship Highlights

During his Fellowship, Cody:

  • Partnered with public defenders, community partners, and other criminal legal system stakeholders in over 10 judicial circuits to understand the strengths and weaknesses of Georgia’s pretrial diversion programs.
  • Utilized Georgia’s Open Records Act and litigation demand letters to obtain detailed documentation regarding the function and equity of pretrial diversion programs across the state.
  • Represented SCHR in community meetings discussing Georgians’ experience with different forms of criminalized poverty.
  • Advocated for numerous individuals facing criminal consequences such as prosecution and imprisonment merely because they are experiencing poverty.
  • Gained expertise in ability-to-pay law in Georgia, using litigation and advocacy to obtain relief from substantial court debt for several clients.
  • Consulted several large jurisdictions through the process of reducing barriers to participation in their pretrial diversion programs, securing one jurisdiction’s commitment to eliminate program fees and expand eligibility.
  • Worked closely with stakeholders in another large jurisdiction to help create a progressive pretrial diversion program that will eventually serve as a model for the entire state.

Media

‘How do you make them pay?’: Locked up in Alabama for debt

Nobody should be punished because they are poor. I am grateful to my sponsor and Equal Justice Works for the opportunity to advance that common-sense principle.

Cody Cutting /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

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Sponsor: Advocacy Center for Persons With Disabilities, Inc., The Florida Bar Foundation