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Maryland Businessman's Donation to ACLU Gives Momentum to Criminal Justice Reform Effort

Updated on December 24, 2015

Big Donation to ACLU for a Tough Project

The American Civil Liberties Union recently announced it was given one of the biggest grants in its history by a Maryland couple that wants the money used to rehabilitate and employ ex-convicts.

David and June Trone intend their $15 million gift as another step toward undoing the harsh sentencing left over from a get-tough attitude toward convicts during the federal and state governments’ war on drugs, according to a report by The Legal Forum (

The ACLU is leading the effort that is joined by a variety of libertarian groups speaking out against a criminal justice system that incarcerates 2.2 million Americans at a cost of $80 billion per year.

David Trone, founder of Total Wine & More, said he would like to see criminal record check boxes removed from job applications as a matter of law because of the way they limit ex-convicts’ employment prospects.

The effort is called the ban the box movement.

The Trones’ grant is supposed to include state and local-level programs in places where incarceration rates are highest, including the District of Columbia. About 90 percent of inmates are housed in state and local institutions.

The Trones’ grant follows a $50 million pledge from businessman and philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Foundations to the ACLU’s criminal justice reform programs.

Other groups that support the ban-the-box movement include Koch Industries, retailers such as Walmart, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond and seven states. The D.C. Council also supports removing criminal history requirements from most job applications and many licensing requirements.

The ACLU has agreed to let David Trone chair an advisory council that seeks to return ex-convicts to the workforce. Other members of the council will be drawn from business and university leaders.

Trone comes into the situation with a near-miss story of his own about a criminal prosecution. As he and his brother began to dominate beer and wine sales in communities where they operated, their competitors’ complaints about their volume discount prices led to an investigation by regulators and criminal charges. The charges were dismissed but not before they impressed David Trone with the need for criminal justice reforms.

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, Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, said in a statement.

Harsh sentences shut out all hope for some ex-cons' employability.

The ACLU's effort to help ex-cons won a big donation from a businessman.
The ACLU's effort to help ex-cons won a big donation from a businessman.

Second chances for ex-cons?

Should the ACLU make a greater effort to find jobs for ex-cons?

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