What is CourtWatchME?
Court Watch ME is a project developed in partnership between Charlotte Warren and the Maine Drug Policy Lab at Colby College. The mission is to watch, record, analyze, and publicize the actions of Maine Judges and Prosecutors during arraignments and first appearances in court. This Maine-specific project is new, but it is inspired by CourtWatch programs established across the United States.
Gather Data -- In order to enact change, we must have data to work off of. Currently, organizations across the state are advocating for criminal legal system reform (specifically concerning decriminalization of drug possession), but the data on what happens to those arrested on drug related offenses can only be supplied by courts and prosecutors. Through CourtWatchME, volunteers will be in court collecting this data, which will be used to show the public what is actually happening in our courtrooms.
Holding Elected District Attorneys Accountable -- Prosecutors in Maine are elected every four years. Typically, information about what happens in court is not publicized widely, making it easy for prosecutors to say one thing while doing something very different, and leaving voters in the dark. CourtWatchME will watch, record, analyze, and publicize the actions of these prosecutors.
Protecting Our Wins -- The Maine legislature has recently passed extensive bail reform, ending cash bail for the lowest levels of crime and requiring judicial officers to take health needs, caregiver status, and employment when setting bail conditions. In order to make sure this progress is actualized, we must be watching in our courts.
Creating Activists -- CourtWatchME creates a pathway for community members who are interested in criminal legal reform to become committed activists through increasing political engagement, public understanding, and civic engagement. Exposing members of the community to the daily injustices of courtrooms is galvanizing, and the stories seen in courtrooms will be shared to the public through social media and other networks.
Community Support -- Data from other states illustrate that when the accused has a visible community supporting them, they receive shorter sentences and lower cash bail amounts. By simply being there, CourtWatchers lend strength and self-worth to the accused, shifting power dynamics within the courtroom for all parties involved.
How do you CourtWatch?
CourtWatching is simple -- once you attend a training, you simply sign up to attend an open shift at one of our courts and fill out data collection forms for each case. This data will then be analyzed by other members of the CourtWatchME team, and used to create public reports on what is happening in our courts. Find out more under the "Get Involved" tab at the top of the page.
Where do we CourtWatch?
Currently, the project is focused on Kennebec County courts, with watching programs on Tuesdays at Waterville District Court and Mondays at the Capitol Judicial Center in Augusta.
Through data collection and community involvement, we will hold judges and prosecutors accountable and advocate for change in our punitive criminal legal system.