The all-volunteer Athens Area Courtwatch Project is completing its fifth year of observing criminal proceedings in the Athens-Clarke County courts.
By the end of 2023, volunteers will have logged nearly 1,000 hours in courtrooms, observing hundreds of hearings, providing moral support to families of defendants and encouragement to defendants’ lawyers. More than 100 unique individuals have volunteered in 2023.
The program is currently “co-teaching” a Social Justice and the Law class at the University of Georgia, involving 24 students with courtwatching during the semester.
In 2023 the OSUMC Community Bail Initiative posted bond for 30 people who collectively had spent 1,081 days in the Clarke County jail before gaining their pretrial liberty. Since the Bail Initiative began in May 2021, it’s helped get 51 people out of jail.
In 2024, volunteers will continue observing court and plan to collect data about when cash bail is imposed and who is affected most when money means one’s pretrial freedom. The group also expects to post bond for more and more Clarke County Jail inmates as the Georgia legislature and the courts continue to demand cash bail.
Courtwatch funded (parking, copying costs, transportation, etc.) by OSUMC volunteers. Likewise, the bail initiative was given a one-time gift in 2021 from the church’s Missions Committee Special Fund. The effort continues to draw on that fund, while raising additional money from individuals within the church and the wider Athens community.