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New Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit talks about new policies he's putting into place

Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit
Posted at 6:31 PM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-11 19:49:46-05

(WXYZ) — In tonight's 7 UpFront report, we're talking with the new Washtenaw County Prosecutor who says he's moving the ball forward in the new year.

Eli Savit has announced two new policies relating to civilian interactions with police officers.

He joins us to talk about these policies.

"Rescinding zero-tolerance policies simply means that we are treating every case that comes through the criminal justice system with the individualized attention that it deserves. No two cases are exactly alike and we shouldn't have these blanket policies in place that can prevent prosecutors who are closest to the ground from coming up with a solution that can make us safer in the long term," Savit says. "That can include something like, for example, allowing someone as an alternative to jail and prison to get an opportunity at substance use treatment, if what's driving their way into the criminal justice system is that they're dealing with substance use or a mental health issues. It could also mean that we can give young people a second chance and say 'look if you are able to stay out of the criminal justice system, if you do everything that we ask you to do, we will support you not having a criminal record going forward that can stay with you for the rest of your life and that can prevent you from getting jobs, getting housing, and getting education. So it's really treating each case that comes through our system with the individualized care that it deserves and I think everyone in the justice system, from defendants to survivors of crimes to witnesses should want that. No two stories are exactly alike and we're not treating cases that are fundamentally unalike as though they are similar in Washtenaw County anymore."

"We know just by setting foot in a courtroom every day, or from taking even the most surface-level view of the numbers that we have severe racial disparities in our justice system and so we partnered with the ACLU and world-class researchers at the University of Michigan Law School to really take a deep dive into our files and into our system and to make sure that people are not being treated differently because of their race," he says. "I'm a firm believer that if there are to be consequences in the criminal justice system, it should be because of what you did, not because of who you are."

"Let's talk about what cash bail really is," Savit says. "Cash bail is a system by which you are accused of a crime and you may sit in jail for days, or weeks, or months, until and unless you can come up with enough money out of your pocket or out of your bank account to secure your freedom. What that means is a poorer person, a working-class person could sit in jail for a very long time, even when they don't pose a danger to the community, whereas a wealthier person, even somebody who is accused of a very serious crime and does pose a threat because they have money, they're able to buy their way out. Now, when we say we're eliminating cash bail, that does not mean that we're not going to seek to hold people in jail when they pose a danger, it just means the same standards are going to apply to everybody. If you're a danger, we want you held, or, at least, we want you on stringent conditions that are going to ensure public safety. If you don't, you shouldn't be sitting in jail. The size of your bank account shouldn't play a role in that dangerousness determination."

"I want to be clear on this," he says. "We're not just opening up the jailhouse doors. What we're doing is putting public safety front and center, not somebody's wealth and that's what 'no cash bail' means."