By John Arceno
DETROIT, MI — Prosecutors are elected in Michigan once every four years, and, said Detroit Today’s Molly Ryan, they hold an important role in the judicial system as they decide which crimes can be classified as misdemeanors or felonies.
She said elected prosecutors are usually not lenient in their sentencing, but several progressive candidates ran to be so in a number of Michigan counties with the hopes of changing the status quo—and won.
Ryan first introduced Eli Savit, Washtenaw County’s newly-elected prosecuting attorney, who implemented a radical policy reform that eliminated the cash-bail system, cracked down on cases of racial profiling, among other\ thingss to mitigate the issues of inequity before the trial process.
“Federal reforms are important,” Savit said. “But the truth is… if you are really focused on criminal justice reform, it needs to come at the state and local level.”
According to Ryan, Savit was previously a public school teacher and has since then become a law and adjunct professor at University of Michigan. With regard to Savit’s decision to discard the cash-bail system, he explained that eliminating this system addresses the financial inequities that disadvantages poor people in the judicial system.
“When someone’s freedom is dependent on wealth, that means a wealthier person may pose a threat to the community(and) buy their way out of jail,” Savit said.
Consistent to the rhetoric of Savit’s progressive peers, Ryan mentioned Savit’s belief that the criminal justice system in the country as a whole, not just in Michigan, needs to be reformed.
“We haven’t done enough to address the root cause,” he said. “It’s not just about equity and fairness… it’s also about rethinking public safety and trying to build a more sustainable system.”
Ryan then segued to introduce another newly-elected progressive prosecutor in Michigan’s Oakland County: Karen McDonald. Proud to hold the highest law enforcement official in her jurisdiction, McDonald said Oakland is “open to doing things the right way.” She adds that she “want(s) things to be fair and safe and … county voters do too.”
McDonald won against Republican candidate Lin Goetz in the election, holding 56.9 percent of the votes compared to Goetz’s 43 percent.
Ryan said McDonald, as the newly-elected prosecutor, scrutinizes data on crime in Oakland County, specifically those that address the racial disparities of the justice system in an effort to address and mitigate them.
Ryan pointed out McDonald’s desire to spark change within the juvenile justice system, consistent with her track record as a proponent and advocate for children, having prosecuted child sexual assault cases as an Oakland County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for five years.
“We have to care about our most vulnerable people,” McDonald said. “If a child spends even a day in foster care they increase the likelihood almost seven times for future incarceration … and homelessness.”
McDonald aims to address the issues of inequity and safety in her county through evidence-based policies.
”I am often described as a progressive prosecutor,” McDonald acknowledges. “(But) this is just common sense. I want our county to be safe and I want our criminal justice system to be fair.”