WASHTENAW COUNTY, Mich. – Officials in Washtenaw County are making major changes in the counties approach to criminal justice.
“To send someone to prison for a crime they didn’t commit is not just the worst mistake a prosecutor can make. It’s not just the worst mistake the judicial system can make. It is the worst mistake the government can make,” Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit said.
Savit said it’s a sad fact, but happens often. People serve time in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. That’s why his office is starting a Conviction Integrity and Expungement Unit.
“I served 19 years, seven months and 12 days in prison for a crime I didn’t commit,” Marvin Cotton Jr., with National Organization of Exonerees, said.
Cotton joined others on Thursday outside the Washtenaw County Administration Building for the announcement. Larry Smith Jr. and Juwan Deering joined him. Smith served 26 years in prison. Deering served 15 years in prison.
“Today, we celebrate, but we’re celebrating in the future. Because we know there are going to be innocent men and women that will no longer be trapped behind bars. They actually have hope and they actually have a chance in order to prove their innocence,” Cotton said.
Washtenaw County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Victoria Burton Harris said the program is needed.
“Being a Black woman who has spent a number of years working in the criminal legal system. I have seen a lot of injustice,” she said. “That has been very targeted at specific populations.”
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