Hello all! My name is Grainne Dunne and I have just begun my work at the ACLU of Maine as the new Justice Organizer. I am so excited to be part of the dynamic team here at the ACLU of Maine and cannot wait to get to work with my new colleagues on criminal justice reform in Maine.
Since the beginning of the War on Drugs, we have seen an explosion in our prison population. With 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of its prisoners. Furthermore, data suggests that we are no safer for it. Given the impact contact with the criminal justice system has on those incarcerated, their families and their communities (not to mention the severe strain skyrocketing correction costs are putting on state and federal governments), this is an issue that demands our immediate attention.
Prior to beginning my work at the ACLU of Maine, Rachel Myers Healy – our Director of Communication and Public Education - suggested I read the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. This book focuses on the targeting of African American communities by our current criminal justice system and the devastating consequences. Not only was this book a complete eye opener for me, it sparked my interest in seeing if these racial disparities were reflected in Maine’s prison population. In fact, Maine’s minorities are disproportionally represented in the state’s criminal justice system: according to a report done by the ACLU national office, African Americans in Maine are twice as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite using marijuana at similar rates (in York county they are five times more likely). Given this data, it is imperative that we re-examine our current criminal justice system in Maine and enact reform that ensure fair treatment for all Mainers.
In the coming months, we have our work cut out for us, from working to reduce the number of people currently incarcerated and eliminating racial disparities in our current system to drug sentencing reform. I look forward to working with the ACLU of Maine, its supporters and partnering agencies to aggressively tackle these important issues and ensure the continued reform of Maine’s criminal justice system.