A new group formed by a state lawmaker from central Maine and the Maine Drug Policy Lab at Colby College is seeking volunteers to watch local court proceedings as part of an effort to bring more transparency and data to the state’s justice system.

The group, Court Watch ME, told Spectrum News there are about 20 trained court watchers so far, and some Colby students have received training.

They sit through court proceedings in Augusta, Skowhegan and Waterville to note “basic information on race, gender, citizenship status, housing needs, caregiver status and charges faced by defendants,” and the volunteers then “write down whether mental health needs are mentioned or whether substance use disorder is discussed as part of a court appearance.”

Winifred Tate Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Winifred Tate, an associate professor of anthropology at Colby College in Waterville who directs the college’s Maine Drug Policy Lab, told Spectrum News a lack of information and transparency is an ongoing problem with the state’s legal system.

The lab partnered with state Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, after Tate and Warren last fall began discussing court watch programs in other states. Without a national court watch program, Warren and Tate looked to similar organizations in South Carolina, Massachusetts, Louisiana and Maryland to find models, according to Spectrum.

Warren, who is House chairwoman of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, said she has spent years listening to testimony from officials throughout the criminal justice system, but said there is little data to examine when it comes time to set policy.


The program is not meant to be adversarial, Warren said, noting Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney and Justice William Stokes have met with students taking part in the program.

Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell Contributed photo

Court Watch ME has been posting summaries on Twitter, writing June 8 that volunteers for three days had watched 66 arraignments in Skowhegan, Augusta and Waterville, some of which involved cases of operating under the influence and unlawful possession of scheduled drugs.

“Substance use disorder was never mentioned. Treatment/diversion was mentioned once,” the group wrote.

The group aims to continue gathering data in the coming months and issue a report in the fall.

Editor’s note: An earlier online version of this story contained inaccurate attribution.

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