ACLU Awarded $50 Million to Help End Mass Incarceration
by Christopher Zoukis
On November 7, 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it had received the largest grant in the organization’s history: $50 million from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. The donation will fund an eight-year campaign to slash America’s incarceration rate and reduce its prison population, which is the largest in the world.
The grant was made to the ACLU’s political arm, not to the organization’s larger, litigation-based program. The funds will be used to pay for media ads and finance political action committees to donate money to candidates. The announcement of the grant, which is not tax-deductible, came on the heels of a successful ballot measure in California – Prop 47 – that downgraded many low-level crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The measure was aided by $3.5 million in support from the ACLU.
Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, said the goal of the Soros-funded campaign will be to reduce the U.S. prison population by 50 percent by 2020.
“I think you see a growing consensus that the criminal justice system in America is broken and this is a time to try new approaches,” stated Open Society Foundations president Christopher Stone.
George Soros and his Open Society Foundations have invested more than $200 million in the past decade toward reform of criminal justice policies. In recent years they have been joined by conservatives, who have apparently found mass incarceration to be unacceptable, too.
In October 2014, Koch Industries, owned by the conservative Koch brothers, gave a grant in the mid-six figures to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to support indigent defense.
“Whether the human cost or societal cost, what we’re doing in the criminal justice system isn’t working,” said Mark Holden, Koch’s general counsel and senior vice president. “We’re finding common ground with different political affiliations.”
Sources: www.nytimes.com, www.philanthropy.com, www.aclu.org
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