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IJ’s Civil Forfeiture Work Seizes the Spotlight—and Secures Change

The day before IJ published the third edition of Policing for Profit, highly regarded investigative journalism outlet ProPublica previewed our findings in an exclusive story headlined “Police Say Seizing Property Without Trial Helps Keep Crime Down. A New Study Shows They’re Wrong.” Ten years ago, this type of high-profile news coverage of the once obscure issue of civil forfeiture would have been unthinkable.

Now, thanks to IJ, civil forfeiture is widely known as an outrageous abuse of property and due process rights. Since we published the first edition of Policing for Profit in 2010, media mentions of civil forfeiture have increased 30-fold, and more than 350 editorials from nearly 140 outlets have argued for reform or outright abolition of the practice, often citing our research. Polling consistently finds sizable majorities of Americans oppose forfeiting property from people without convicting them of any crime.

And IJ’s results are not limited to the opinion pages. Since setting our sights on civil forfeiture, we’ve successfully litigated nearly two dozen forfeiture cases, including one that shut down the massive forfeiture machine in Philadelphia. We ended an IRS forfeiture program that seized millions of dollars from thousands of Americans’ bank accounts without proof of wrongdoing. We’ve inspired legislative reform in a total of 35 states and D.C. And $17 million in seized assets has been returned to innocent owners thanks to IJ’s efforts. 

This sea change demonstrates the power of IJ’s unique combination of litigation, strategic research, communications, and legislative advocacy. More importantly, it lays the groundwork for meaningful reform that, as the third edition of Policing for Profit makes clear, is more urgent than ever.

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