WASHTENAW COUNTY, Mich. – The new Washtenaw County prosecutor, Eli Savit, weighed in on what drove him to run for that position and what has inspired him to drive so much change.
“We are really focused on equity in our justice system,” Savit said.
From his first day on the job, Savit started rolling out sweeping policy changes. He said he’s just getting started.
“Longer term, I am hoping we are going to see a safer community,” Savit said.
Savit is a civil rights lawyer who built his career and campaign on public safety and treating people fairly.
“I know that it seems as though we released a bunch of things in sort of rapid-fire but the truth of the matter is, they were the product of literally years of collaborative work. It started with a campaign and I ran my campaign for about a year and a half here we had hundreds of community meetings, we had policy teams. I made promises I put out campaign pledges and sort of white papers, and that was what I ran on and then after we won the election we got started on the hard work of putting these into practice,” Savit said.
He built his campaign on what he calls doing justice differently. In office, he’s promising to live up to that.
“The truth of the matter is that across the country. We have been engaged in a justice system that has taken a punishment first approach, but in the long term really hasn’t kept us safe,” Savit said.
On his first day in office, he rescinded the zero-tolerance policies. He said he’s in favor of drug treatment and rehab instead of jail time.
“My priority is making sure that the first time somebody comes into the justice system or the second time somebody comes with the justice system for, you know, perhaps a lower-level offense that we’re making sure that we get them the resources, the treatment that they need so that we don’t see more serious crimes happen down the line,” Savit said.
Three days into his term, he scrapped cash bail. Washtenaw County is the first in the state to make that move. Savit said he believes defendants’ wealth shouldn’t play a role in their release from jail.
He also announced that his office wouldn’t prosecute those engaged in consensual sex work. Instead, he wants to focus on cases involving human trafficking and sexual assault.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Savit announced a new policy to combat racial profiling in Washtenaw County.
“I’ve been pulled over. I don’t like a gun, right, and I get pulled over, and I’ve never been asked by an officer if they can search my car, I get my ticket, maybe I get a warning, and I go on my way. So we know that these types of stops followed by search, with no real reason other than the fact that they asked you to search your car. Those are strongly associated with racial profiling, and that in turn, really erodes the trust between law enforcement and members of the community. So, what I’m hoping people take away from this is, first of all, we’re sending a message to our partners in law enforcement that we’re not interested in these types of low-level charges that come from these types of fishing expeditions,” Savit said.
Savit said he wants Washtenaw County to serve as an example for the rest of the state.