Alec Karakatsanis


Alec is the Founder of Civil Rights Corps. Before founding Civil Rights Corps, Alec was a civil rights lawyer and public defender with the Special Litigation Division of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia; a federal public defender in Alabama, representing impoverished people accused of federal crimes; and co-founder of the non-profit organization Equal Justice Under Law.

Alec has pioneered constitutional civil rights cases to challenge the size, power, profit, and everyday brutality of the punishment bureaucracy across the United States.  These legal challenges have helped to free hundreds of thousands of people from jail, returned tens of millions of dollars to indigent people and families, prevented hundreds of thousands of illegal convictions, prevented the separation of thousands of families, and transformed the way the U.S. criminal punishment bureaucracy handles fines, fees, and bail.  Alec has also worked with directly impacted communities across the U.S. to design innovative new legal, advocacy, and narrative strategies for challenging widespread illegal and harmful practices of prosecutors, police, probation officers, judges, and private companies who work with them to profit from the punishment bureaucracy.

Alec has recently been awarded the 2023 John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award. Other honors include the Trial Lawyer of the Year Award by Public Justice and the Stephen B. Bright Award for contributions to indigent defense in the South by Gideon’s Promise. His work at Civil Rights Corps challenging the money bail system in California was honored with the Champion of Public Defense Award by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  You can read a profile about Alec’s work starting Civil Rights Corps challenging modern debtors’ prisons in Harvard Magazine here.

Alec graduated from Yale College in 2005 with a degree in Ethics, Politics, & Economics and Harvard Law School in 2008, where he was a Supreme Court Chair of the Harvard Law Review. Alec lectures widely about the failures of the criminal punishment bureaucracy, typically gives more than 100 lectures, speeches, trainings, interviews, and workshops per year.

Alec is interested in genuine holistic safety for everyone and ending human caging, surveillance, police, the death penalty, immigration laws, war, and inequality. He also likes playing the piano and soccer, collecting rocks, singing, growing flowers, creating mosaics from dried flowers, repeating the same jokes until they become funny, writing poetry, and making weird paintings on large pieces of wood and metal.

You can watch Alec talk about Copaganda in the media on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and The Breakfast Club. He also writes a regular newsletter on Copaganda in the media called Alec’s Copaganda Newsletter. You can check it out here! Alec’s first book Usual Cruelty is available in paperback.

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