The American Civil Liberties Union has announced a $15 million gift from David and June Trone to create a center focused on reducing recidivism and the U.S. prison population.
The Trone Center for Criminal Justice Reform will work to promote sentencing reform and private initiatives aimed at rehabilitating and employing ex-convicts. According to ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero, the center's activities will include support for state-level criminal justice reform campaigns in states where incarceration rates and the prospect of bipartisan cooperation are greatest. While major sentencing reform legislation is tied up in Congress, momentum for reform is growing among state and local governments, which house more than 90 percent of the nation's prisoners and spend more than 90 percent of incarceration-related tax dollars.
In addition to his gift, David Trone — who has supported calls for removing the criminal-record check box from job applications — will chair an advisory board of private sector and education leaders working to build support for criminal justice reform, with a focus on reintegration assistance and job opportunities for recently released individuals. "If business leaders take a big stake in pushing these reforms, it ensures the sustainability of long-lasting reform," Romero told the Washington Post. "If you can tie the power of the private sector to this sled, then Congress and the president will be dragged into taking real action."
The gift from the co-founder of Total Wine & More is the second largest donation in the organization's history dedicated to criminal justice work, after a $50 million gift from the Open Society Foundations in 2014. The Trones, who spent years fighting unsubstantiated criminal charges brought against them by business competitors, have given more than $1 million to the ACLU since 1994.
"The Trone Center for Criminal Justice will see that these reforms become a reality," said Romero. "The private sector is key to unlocking the potential for true and long-lasting reform on criminal justice, and David will be the driving force in the ACLU’s private sector national initiative."