Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit scraps cash bail

Washtenaw County becomes first jurisdiction in Michigan to eliminate practice

New Washtenaw County prosecutor is working on a new rule to no longer accept cash bail.

ANN ARBOR – Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit announced Monday that the Prosecutor’s Office will eliminate the use of cash bail in any case.

Savit, who took office on Jan. 1, alerted staff Monday morning in a 20-page policy directive.

According to the directive, cash bail “is a system under which a defendant who has been accused of a crime is required to post money in order to secure release from jail pending trial.”

The directive highlighted the deep-seated inequity of the use of cash bail.

“Under a cash bail system, poorer people -- even those who are accused of relatively minor crimes -- are forced to sit in jail for days, weeks, or years,” the directive reads. “At the same time, cash bail allows wealthier people who are accused of serious crimes to go free pending trial.”

Read: Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit rescinds ‘zero-tolerance’ policies

Savit has directed assistant prosecuting attorneys to no longer request cash bond in any case and instead to make case-by-case assessments to determine the defendants’ flight disk and dangerousness in order to ensure public safety. Nonmonetary conditions that they may seek include pretrial detention.

“A defendant’s wealth, however, should not play a role in their release,” reads the new policy.

The move has made Washtenaw County the first jurisdiction in the state to eliminate cash bail. Washington, D.C. and New Jersey have stopped seeking cash bail, as well as the city of San Francisco and counties in Vermont and Virginia. The policy directive noted that these communities have successfully eradicated the practice “without undermining public safety.”

“I pledged during the campaign that we would not be seeking cash bail, and I’m proud to make good on that promise today,” Savit said in a news release. “Cash bail is inherently inequitable and unjust. The size of a person’s bank account should never determine their freedom.

“To be clear, our policy still allows for the detention of people who pose an imminent threat to the community. Our office will never consent to pretrial release unless we are satisfied that conditions are in place to ensure public safety. But we will no longer perpetuate a system of wealth-based detention.”

The policy also lists factors designed to help assistant prosecutors in determining what type of threat an individual poses to public safety before they recommend pre-trial release conditions.

For instance, the directive states that a domestic “abuser’s access to a firearm increases the risk of femicide by at least 400%.”

The new policy states that all defendants accused of domestic violence be banned from owning firearms.

The policy also emphasizes the elevated consequences correlated with cash bail. According to the directive, cash bail places poorer people at risk of losing their jobs, homes and can place serious harm on children of defendants.

The policy further notes the long-established racial wealth gap in the country:

“People who lack wealth in the United States are disproportionately likely to be Black. Cash bail perpetuates ‘the glaring legacy of American slavery,’ and the cascading consequences that have accrued from centuries of discrimination.”

To read the full policy directive, click here.