‘Our justice system needs to treat kids like kids:’ Washtenaw County Prosecutor won’t charge juveniles accused of minor crimes


ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The juvenile justice system is no longer Washtenaw County’s go-to option when children and teens are accused of minor crimes.

On Monday, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit added another policy to the list of progressive changes his office has already enacted since he was sworn in on January 1.

The latest directive from the prosecutor’s office notes that staff will no longer issue petitions against juveniles facing accusations of truancy, curfew violations, tobacco and vaping-related offenses, possession of marijuana or alcohol, and disorderly conduct unless there is evidence of a serious crime or violent act.

Since his term started, Savit has introduced sweeping policy changes to the county’s justice system, including rescinding the county’s no-tolerance policies, scrapping cash bail and combatting racial profiling.

Citing medical research about the adolescent brain, the directive states that children and teens need to be treated as such instead of like small adults.

“All of this gives rise to a simple conclusion: Our justice system needs to treat kids like kids. That is true regardless of who children are, or where they come from. And though the evidence demonstrates that a punishment-oriented approach to juvenile justice is largely counterproductive, it is not the case that nothing can be done to nudge young people onto the right path,” it says.

The directive notes that the Prosecutor’s Office is in the process of building community partnerships for rehabilitative, non-criminal interventions “for youthful mistakes.” The office will “avoid the unnecessary tethering of young people to the criminal-justice system—an outcome that does more harm than good.”

Related: Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit talks vision, policy change in first weeks in office

Through the new policy, Savit tells assistant prosecuting attorneys (APAs) that juvenile offenses should be handled outside the criminal justice system (as much as possible), to issue civil infractions instead or to utilize restorative justice.

Incidents happening on school property, such as minor theft or fights resulting in no injuries, should be deferred to school districts.

Savit’s directive states that fights without injuries happening off of school properties will not result in a juvenile petition. Fights involving injuries and/or weapons on or off school property will be dealt with at the discretion of the prosecutor’s office.

Petitions can be authorized by APAs if a continued threat to the safety of others is indicated or if the case is “more severe than typical school-related misbehavior.”

Find the full policy directive here.

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Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.