Eli Savit: On the Issues
Our justice system is broken, and we’re all suffering because of it. As a nation, a state, and a county, we expend far too many resources punishing people who need help. We regularly imprison people who—because of poverty, mental health issues, or addiction—find themselves trapped in the criminal system.
That’s not just unfair, it’s unwise. When we punish people who need help, it diverts resources from our schools; roads; and infrastructure. In fact, one-fifth of our state’s general-fund budget is currently spent on corrections. What’s more, a rigid, punitive criminal-justice system makes all of us less safe. The more resources we spend on non-violent and victimless crimes, the fewer we have to spend on serious crimes like gun violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking.
In Washtenaw County, we can do better. And it starts with our prosecutor’s office. In Washtenaw—as in communities across the country—the elected prosecutor is the gateway to the criminal justice system. He or she decides whether to bring criminal charges; how long a sentence to seek; whether and when a person should get a chance at rehabilitation as an alternative to prison.
That’s why it’s crucial that we remake our prosecutor’s office so that it’s focused on ensuring justice for all—for victims, for taxpayers, and for those who are charged with criminal conduct.
Here’s what that means. It means reforming our cash bail system, so that we’re not holding people in jail based solely on their ability to pay. It means supporting specialized courts that help veterans, and people struggling with addiction and mental health issues. It means treating kids like kids, and ensuring that we give young people in the criminal-justice system the resources they need. It means prioritizing prosecution of violent crimes, and corporate wrongdoers. And it means working to make sure that we emphasize rehabilitation.
What does that mean for you? It means your tax dollars will no longer be used to lock people up who pose little danger. It means you can rest easy, knowing that your elected prosecutor is going after wrongdoers who pose a real threat to your well-being. It means that, if you or your loved ones are ever involved in the criminal justice system, you’ll know that you’ll get a fair shake.
Together, we can lead. Together, we can make sure that our prosecutor’s office focuses on justice for all. And when we do, we’ll set the standard—here in Michigan, and nationally—for a prosecutor’s office that prioritizes the wellbeing of all members of our community.
Let’s get this done. I hope you’ll join me.
Prioritize Treatment and Rehabilitation
+ Support problem-solving courts
Problem-solving courts give people who are struggling an alternative to prison—and a chance to turn their lives around. They provide resources to veterans, and to people suffering from mental-health challenges and addiction. And in the long run, problem-solving courts save all of us money, and make all of us safer. When people get the help that they need, they’re less likely to commit crimes in the future, eliminating the need to lock people behind bars. But in Washtenaw County, we’ve failed to establish problem-solving courts in any of our circuit courts. Eli will support the establishment of problem-solving courts, and work to ensure that people get the treatment they need.
+ Support rehabilitation and expungement services
After people serve their criminal sentences, we need to work to make sure they are re-integrated into society. That’s not just the right thing to do—it’s the smart strategy. People with stable jobs are far less likely to turn back to a life of crime, which makes all of us safer.
Eli is a statewide leader in the movement to help reintegrate returning citizens into society. He worked with a bipartisan group of legislators to craft landmark legislation that will expand Michigan's expungement laws—and give hundreds of thousands of Michiganders a fresh start. Eli will bring that same focus to the Prosecutor's Office. Eli is committed to using the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney to help returning citizens expunge old criminal records, and to obtain gainful employment.
+ Work collaboratively with schools and community members
The Prosecuting Attorney is the “people’s attorney,” which means working on behalf of all the people in our community. Eli, a former public-school teacher, is committed to working with schools and community groups to ensure that young people are able to stay out the criminal justice system.
Promote Fairer, Cost-Effective Justice
+ Eliminate cash bail
When people are arrested for a crime—but before they are tried—they’re often asked to buy their freedom by posting a cash bond. Those who are unable to come up with the funds are held in jail until their trial.
That means we’re punishing people not for what they did, but because of their ability to pay. Poorer defendants are held in jail pending trial, while wealthier defendants are allowed to walk free. That’s unjust, and it places severe strain on families. What’s more, it fills our jails with people who don’t need to be there. And we all pay for that. It’s a hidden tax on county residents.
As Prosecuting Attorney, Eli will not seek cash bail. People who pose a danger to the community, or those who might skip trial, will still be held pending trial. But the same standards will be applied to everyone. Under Eli’s watch, justice won’t depend on the size of one’s bank account.
+ Consider the monetary costs of incarceration
Michigan spends one-fifth of its general-fund budget locking people in prisons. Those are your tax dollars, and it’s money that could go to fix roads, fund education, or shore up our health system. The chief driver of these costs is lengthy prison sentences obtained by county prosecutors. Eli will instruct his prosecutors to consider the total monetary costs to taxpayers for every sentence they seek, ensuring that sentences are no harsher than necessary to achieve their goals.
+ Build a transparent, accountable prosecutor's office
Far too frequently, the prosecutor's office is a black box. Despite being responsible for millions of dollars in taxpayer resources, citizens rarely know what their elected prosecutor is doing—or whether the office is getting results.
That's why Eli is committed to building a transparent prosecutor's office that is accountable to the people. As prosecutor, Eli will build a web-based platform which tracks metrics like recidivism, the length of sentences obtained, expenditures of taxpayer resources, and the number of people receiving diversion opportunities. Detailed data reports will be available to researchers, the media, and the general public.
After all: when prosecutors stand up in court, they represent "the people." Shouldn't the people know what their elected prosecutor is doing?
+ End coercive plea bargaining
Although most of us think of the criminal justice system playing out at trial, the reality is that 97% of criminal charges in Washtenaw County are “settled” through a plea bargain. Plea bargaining can be a good thing—it allows people to get on with their lives, and allowing the community to avoid the expense of trial. But too frequently, prosecutors take a “hard line” in plea bargaining negotiations, and threaten to file overly harsh charges if defendants don’t agree to their terms. Eli will ensure that plea bargaining in the Prosecutor’s Office is conducted fairly.
Target Crime that Harms Our Community
+ Focus on violent offenses, sex crimes, and human trafficking
When a prosecutor’s office spends less time focusing on non-violent, victimless offenses, it frees up resources to investigate and prosecute the cases that really matter. Those include gun violence, sex crimes, and crimes that impose real costs on victims—like violent property offenses, child exploitation, and human trafficking. As Prosecuting Attorney, Eli will be steadfast in fulfilling his obligation to keep the community safe, and will allocate prosecutorial resources accordingly.
+ No special treatment for privileged defendants
Eli is committed to eliminating all vestiges of a system in which wealthy, connected defendants are able to escape consequences for their actions. Eli has spent his career locked in court battles with some of tne nation's most formidable adversaries—such as banks, corporate polluters, and the opioid industry. He will not be afraid to prosecute well-heeled, well-connected people who commit domestic violence, sex crimes, or child abuse. Eli will always protect innocent victims, even when the perpetrator is wealthy or well-connected.
+ Treat victims with respect
People who have been the victims of crimes are thrust—through no choice of their own—into a traumatic, confusing criminal-justice system. It’s incumbent on the prosecutor’s office to treat victims with the respect and compassion that they deserve. The need to respect victims is particularly important for those that have survived violence or sexual assault. Eli will support a trauma-informed, evidence-based approach to cases, and, in all cases, will maintain an open line of communication to victims and their family members.
+ Investigate and charge environmental crimes
Too frequently, polluters are able to dirty our air and water, impose severe health consequences on the community—and avoid real responsibility for their actions. Eli is a longstanding environmental activist, and a respected national commentator on environmental justice issues. He worked tirelessly to secure environmental benefits for residents of the most polluted areas in Detroit, and has fought on behalf of multiple states to hold corporate polluters to account. A proven fighter for clean air and clean water, Eli will ensure that the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s office investigates, and charges, all environmental crimes within its jurisdiction.
+ Prosecute corporate criminality
Justice for all means justice for all, and corporations that commit crimes shouldn’t be exempt from justice. As a lawyer, Eli has been unafraid to take on powerful corporate interests. He has personally led major public-interest lawsuits against banks, slumlords, the opioid industry, and corporate polluters. Eli is committed to ensuring that corporations are held to account when they break the law.
Promote Equal Justice Under the Law
+ Seek out, and eliminate, racial inequity
At every step in our criminal justice system, there is the potential for racial inequity. People of color are often charged differently for similar conduct; obtain harsher sentences for the same crimes; and are subject to more severe restrictions once a sentence has been served. That’s unjust. The criminal justice system should impose consequences based on what people did, not because of who they are.
Across the country, progressive prosecutors have committed to opening their files, and taking a hard look at the practices that lead racial inequity. In Milwaukee, for example, the elected prosecutor partnered with an outside researcher, who found that black defendants were being prosecuted at a far higher rate than white defendants for drug-paraphernalia crimes. That led the prosecutor to change practice. Eli will seek out opportunities to partner with independent researchers to root out racial disparities in prosecution.
+ Keep families together, and protect our immigrant population
Our criminal-justice system is particularly fraught for members of our immigrant community. Immigrants who are convicted of crimes—even minor offenses—are frequently subject to deportation. That often has the effect of separating mothers and fathers from their children. And it makes all of us less safe. When communities don’t trust the criminal justice system, they are less likely to report crimes or to serve as witnesses. That’s why Eli will require all prosecutors to consider the immigration consequences of any charge—and to file charges which don’t carry immigration consequences if they are appropriate. In addition, Eli will decline any federal requests to use county resources to assist with immigration enforcement.
+ Treat kids like kids
As any parent (or teacher) can tell you, kids aren’t just small adults. Yet too frequently, our criminal-justice system imposes adult consequences on children: detaining kids for long periods of time; levying harsh punishments on children; housing teenagers with adults who were convicted of violent crimes. That’s unsafe, unjust, and unwise. When kids are treated like adult criminals—and separated from their families—it diminishes their opportunity for rehabilitation, and ultimately makes it more likely that they’ll continue criminal activity. That, in turn, makes all of us less safe. Eli will prioritize rehabilitation for young people, and make every effort to ensure that families stay together.