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ACLU Kicks Off Campaigns in Wheeling

A small group gathers at the ACLU’s Campaign Kickoff Event in Wheeling on Monday. Speaking is Eli Baumwell, policy director for ACLU West Virginia.

Leaders of the Northern Panhandle chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union met in Wheeling Monday to discuss three goals the organization has, outlining their trajectory for the next three years.

Eight local residents attended the meeting, held at the First State Capitol building on Eoff Street for the Campaign Kickoff Event. There, Policy Director Eli Baumwell presented the ACLU’s goals, the motivation driving them and statistics backing them up. The ACLU’s goals are to achieve juvenile justice reform, criminal justice reform and to defend democracy.

ACLU West Virginia Executive Director Joseph Cohen hopes the campaigns will allow the ACLU to be more proactive, as opposed to its historical approach of suing in response to perceived injustices.

“We do find ourselves pulled in multiple directions all the time,” Cohen said. “We’ve found ourselves addressing things as they come up. Especially here in West Virginia, where people’s civil liberties are frequently under attack, we find ourselves as many people’s last line of defense. That’s really, really important, but it prevents us from making a sustained, strategic effort to make real, substantive and lasting changes for the positive.

“It’s sort of a whack-a-mole strategy — beat it back, beat it back, and we never have the chance to push the agenda, and now we’re moving from whack-a-mole strategy to campaign strategy.”

Baumwell presented a slideshow to reinforce the ACLU’s position, outlining numerous issues in each category. In the theater of juvenile justice, one goal of the ACLU is to cut juvenile containment by 75 percent, an area in which West Virginia has seen an increase of more than 40 percent, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

“We need to cut that number to average, and then half again … “ Baumwell said. “Average is not radical transformation, and we’re looking to be leaders.”

To combat this, some of the ACLU’s proposed policies include instructing teachers, administrators, police and judges on implicit bias, expansion of youth and teen drug court programs, and regular review of youth in detention and treatment programs to ensure that continual supervision is warranted.

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