Eli Savit, the Democratic candidate for Washtenaw County Prosecutor, met with students at the Ford School of Public Policy Sunday afternoon to discuss his campaign and ways students can get involved. Policy for the People, an organization focused on supporting activists and their progressive agendas, hosted the event.
After working as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Washington, D.C., Savit returned to Michigan to work as a legal counsel for the City of Detroit. Savit announced his campaign back in May 2019, when it was believed incumbent Brian Mackie would be running for re-election.
Savit spent the majority of his time talking about combating mass incarceration. According to Savit, change begins with local prosecutors' offices.
“We talk about the land of the free, and as the land of the free, we are the world leader in incarceration,” Savit. “And a lot of that is driven by the decisions that are made by local district attorneys and local prosecutors because for decades in this country, all local prosecutors have done is brought on a tough on crime platform.”
In order to combat mass incarceration, Savit outlined a 16-point plan for the prosecutor’s office. On Sunday, he focused on three of those points.
“What I’m committed to doing as prosecutor is treating drug addiction as the health issue that it is, not charging people simply because they have a health problem,” Savit said. “If you had a broken leg, we wouldn’t say ‘go to jail.’ But addiction is a health issue just like a broken leg and sending people to jail or prison doesn’t fix it.”
Savit’s second point is to address racial inequity in Washtenaw County. People of color are more likely to be held on cash bail than are white people, Savit said. Savit also spoke about his disdain for cash bail, a system where someone awaiting a trial is placed in a holding cell unless a sum of cash is paid.
“I’m committed to not seeking cash bail,” Savit said. “If you pose a danger to society, there’s no way to make sure you won’t threaten society, we are going to hold you. But the same standards are going to be applied to everyone, wealthy or not wealthy. And if you don’t pose a threat … you’re not going to be held.”
Savit said his plan would work with organizations involved with criminal justice reform.
“We are going to partner with a third-party research institution or a criminal justice reform organization, we’re going to turn over all of our files and we are going to ask, ‘Where, from arrests to charging to sentencing to the plea offers that people are getting, where are we seeing Black people and people of color being treated differently?’” Savit said. “As soon as we do that, we’re going to take action to eliminate them.”
His final point was transparency. Savit said this point is integral to holding local officials accountable.
“We have no idea how the prosecutor’s office is spending their money, we have no idea if they’re getting results, we have no idea if they’re promoting equity, and we have no idea if they’re getting people the treatment they need,” Savit said.
As prosecutor, Savit said he will make information about his office’s expenditures available online to the public.
Savit spent his remaining time telling students how they can help out. Savit said his campaign is “youth driven” and depends on young voters. Since the election is in August, Savit told students they needed to take action now.
“We can’t rely on a huge student turnout unless we organize now,” Savit said. “Part of that is going to be getting the message out there, getting folks at the University to commit to vote absentee. You can register now and the same day, vote absentee for any reason, and get those votes in that could really swing the election.”
Savit wrapped up the event by expressing his hope for the prosecutor’s office to utilize expungement more. Expungement is the process by which a criminal record is erased or sealed from the public if an individual has not committed another offense. Savit said this would help rebuild trust between the community and the county government.
Policy for the People members Alyshia Dyer and Mike Hegeman spoke with The Daily after the event about their organization.
“It’s a relatively new student organization,” Dyer said. “Criminal justice reform was something that we wanted to focus on as well as local activism and helping out the community.”
Dyer grew up in Ypsilanti and was a police officer for seven years. She plans on doing more police and criminal justice reform work in the future, hence why she supports Savit for prosecutor.
“It was really interesting to me because I’ve worked with a lot of prosecutors in my law enforcement career and he was a more progressive candidate that we don’t really see much in Washtenaw County,” Dyer said. “Part of it that motivated me to get some of our students involved is just the progressive platform and the fact that he is really interested in criminal justice reform and ending cash bail.”
Hegeman said the organization is starting to take a more active role in promoting progressive ideals.
“We’re really interested in equity,” Hegeman said. “We’re trying to do more action, such as (helping with) the Savit campaign and gearing up for the GEO negotiations coming up and finding more ways to get involved in the community.”
LSA freshman Grace Stephan said she sees racial inequity as one of the “grossest injustices” faced by the community.
“I sort of got into it because issues regarding people who were wrongfully incarcerated is something that really came to my attention a couple of years ago,” Stephan said. “It’s one of the grossest injustices I think exists. I really wanted to get involved in something that would be actually helpful towards that and towards criminal justice reform.”