The ACLU of Delaware announced the creation of the Coalition for Smart Justice Monday, and launched a website featuring interviews with the four Attorney General candidates, highlighting their positions on the Coalition’s criminal justice reform agenda.
Among the Coalition’s primary goals is ending racial bias in the criminal justice system. The ACLU of Delaware says the state imprisons its residents at a higher rate than surrounding states and the US average. African Americans make up 22 percent of the population in Delaware, but 51 percent of prisoners, according to the group.
Kathleen MacRae, director of the ACLU of Delaware, says transparency at the Delaware Department of Justice is key to fighting bias.
“We need a tracking system ... so we know who’s getting charged, what they’re getting charged with, who takes a plea … and what are the terms of the plea agreement. And if we track that information by race and sex and ethnicity, over time we will be able to identify where the racial bias problems in the system show up.”
MacRae says the Coalition is focusing on the Attorney General race because that position is equipped to deal with these issues.
“The Attorney General is the most powerful person in the criminal justice system. They decide who gets charged, how many charges are piled on, or who does not get charged for a crime,” said MacRae.
The Coalition's #VoteSmartJusticeDE campaign will work on registering voters and educating them about Attorney General candidate positions on criminal justice issues, such as bail and pre-trial diversion programs.
Dubard McGriff coordinates the Smart Justice Campaign for ACLU of Delaware. The Wilmington native himself once had a run-in with the criminal justice system, and said he’s dealt with the challenges of living with a criminal record.
“I know that people can change. I am a good example,” he said. “I have survived the challenges and the barriers of living with a criminal history.”
McGriff emphasized that the coalition wants those most affected by Delaware’s criminal justice system to be engaged in the campaign.
“The Coalition for Smart Justice really believes that in order to create … effective change, we must involve the people that are impacted, with a criminal history,” he said. “Their voices must be heard, and they must be empowered to advocate for themselves.”
The ACLU is non-partisan and does not endorse candidates, but hopes to get out the vote for the fall Attorney General race. Delaware United, one of the Coalition for Smart Justice partners, is hosting a candidate forum at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark this Saturday.
Other local partners in the Coalition for Smart Justice include Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Coalition to Dismantle the New Jim Crow, and Delaware Center for Justice.