For the first time next week, Wichita will be home to an American Civil Liberties Union office.
Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, said increased financial support of the civil rights organization allowed for the expansion into Wichita and the hiring of a full-time employee.
Local community organizer Djuan Wash will start Monday in his new role as a Smart Justice field organizer, Kubic said. Kansans for Smart Justice is an ACLU-backed coalition working for criminal justice reform in the state, Kubic said.
“We’ve had a chapter in Wichita but never a branch office,” Kubic said. “As the attacks on civil rights and civil liberties have gotten fiercer and our membership and support base has grown, we’re able to do this now.”
In just the past few months, Kubic said, the number of supporters of the ACLU of Kansas has tripled.
“We have close to 30,000 supporters now in Kansas,” Kubic said. “Wichita is a big part of it, but we’re working hard to develop our presence all over the state.”
Kubic said Wash seemed a natural fit because of his experience as a community organizer and criminal justice reform leader. Wash has worked for the Sunflower Community Action organization and was a juvenile justice advocate for Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit justice center, until February.
“Criminal justice reform is an issue that really excites me,” Wash said. “There is bipartisan agreement in the need to reform our system as it destroys families and communities.”
Wash, who turns 33 on Saturday, said some of the specific issues he wants to work on include the expansion of offender diversion programs, the reform of civil asset forfeiture practices by law enforcement agencies and the reduction of sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay has talked about how mental health and substance abuse issues have led to increased strain on law enforcement agencies in recent years. Wash said police officers now often find themselves in situations in which they have to act like social workers, which represents another area where he’d like to see change.
“Being unemployed since February, I have a better idea of the struggles that poor families go through,” Wash said. “I plan to hit the ground running as we advocate for smart justice reform.”
The new ACLU office will be housed in the Garvey Center, 250 W. Douglas. The ACLU of Kansas is based in Overland Park.