Meet Jason Groth, the ACLU of Utah’s first Smart Justice Coordinator. During his three years as a public defender in Grand Junction, Colorado, Jason saw a lot of people fall through the cracks of the criminal justice system.
Fixing the System
“I tried my best to help the individuals I saw who needed legal counsel,” explained Groth. “But I quickly realized that the entire system needed to be fixed.”
That ambitious goal is ideal for Groth as he launches the ACLU of Utah’s Campaign for Smart Justice, a national effort taking place in all 50 states to reduce the nation’s jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system. In Utah the campaign will focus on two elements: increasing prosecutorial reform and updating the parole system.
“This two-headed approach targets the source of many systemic problems,” explains Groth. “Prosecutors represent the entry-point to the criminal justice system, while parole is the final touchpoint for people who are leaving the system.”
His first step is to identify the competitive races for county prosecutors in 2018 and create questionnaires and organize candidate forums to educate voters about the importance of these elections.
Groth attended college at the University of Dubuque and returned to Iowa to earn a law degree at the University of Iowa College of Law. In between he earned a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and worked as an adjunct English professor.
He was active in indigent defense throughout law school, from representing clients in trial to arguing at the Iowa Court of Appeals. As an attorney he continued his indigent defense work with the Colorado State Public Defender, where he represented adult and juvenile clients in misdemeanor and felony cases. He also served as vice president for the Pro Bono Project of Mesa County’s Board of Directors, and coached high school mock trial teams before relocating to Utah along with his wife, Olivia, a family law attorney.
Groth is excited to join the ACLU of Utah after working on criminal justice issues for many years. “Anytime you walk into a room and say you’re from the ACLU of Utah, people listen to what you have to say, and that’s been a great benefit as I launch the Campaign for Smart Justice.” ◄
This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2018 Spring Newsletter >>