2020 Grinnell Prize Winner: Alexander McLean

Alexander McLean

Alexander McLean, founder and Director General of Justice Defenders, has been selected as the winner of the 2020 Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize. McLean and Justice Defenders provides pertinent legal assistance, training, and education to incarcerated peoples and select prison staff. This support gives significant agency to those directly impacted by incarceration by providing incarcerated people with the knowledge needed to attain their own release and dignity.

Through Justice Defenders, prisoners learn and advocate for themselves and are given additional support from the organization throughout the process. The organization and those who have formerly been incarcerated then work with the prison staff and judges to correct the legal system to a human- centered reform model that both provides prisoners with agency and improves prison conditions by essentially changing the perspective the prison staff have on the system. By building capacity through a growing network of individuals, Justice Defenders is transforming how individuals caught into a prison and penal system may understand their own relationship to the state and their potential role in affecting change in the penal system and broader political culture.

To date, McLean and Justice Defenders have helped more than 50 individuals become law students despite the challenges of limited internet access, resources, and security restrictions, including 24 prisoners who graduated from the University of London’s law program. They have trained 341 paralegals to work within more than 40 prison communities across Africa and aided tens of thousands of individuals with legal training and seminars. Justice Defenders has reached 50,000 prisoners through legal awareness session in the last 11 years, and opened Uganda’s first prison-based Legal Aid Clinic to provide free legal advice and assistance.

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