On the Issues

The ACLU of Michigan recommends prosecuting attorneys focus on implementing reforms in five areas: racial justice, decarceration, pre-trial reform, juvenile justice, and transparency. For each area, we suggest specific policy reforms and public commitments, providing examples where similar policy reforms have been undertaken by local prosecutors across the country.

Racial Justice

Michigan’s criminal legal system unfairly targets and incarcerates people of color. We know that prosecutorial policies and actions often exacerbate these disparities. We need reforms that address these issues, and work to advance racial justice. 

We’re asking candidates to:

  • Publicly acknowledge that racial disparities exist in the criminal legal system.
  • Start collecting and publishing uniform and consistent data on race and ethnicity data. 
  • Commit to implementing policies and staff training aimed at behavioral changes that will eliminates racial disparities.
  • Decline to prosecute cases where arrests are tainted with significant racial bias and work with law enforcement to change the culture and reduce incidences of racial bias.
  • Require racial impact analysis prior to charging decisions.

Decareration

Michigan’s incarceration skyrocketed between 1980 and 2016--growing by 172%. Prosecutors can and should lead the way to meaningfully reducing Michigan’s jail and prison population. This requires a well planned, intentional, and aggressive effort. 

We’re asking candidates to: 

  • Commit to a specific, measurable decarceration goal.
  • Invest in diversion programs for both felony and misdemeanor charges.
  • Eliminate the coercive nature of the plea bargaining process.
  • End the practice of using prior felony convictions to enhance prison sentences.
  • Advocate for the automatic expungement of marijuana convictions that are now legal.
  • Adopt policies from the Michigan Task Force on Jails and Pretrial Incarceration where possible, and work with other system stakeholders to implement these policies.
  • End the prosecution of low-level crimes, including loitering and trespassing.

Pretrial Reform

Nearly 60% of the people in Michigan jails are behind bars on pretrial detention and have not been convicted of a crime. Michigan law states that cash bail should only be set in cases where the person is a flight risk or poses a danger to society, yet thousands of people are detained for days, weeks, and months simply because they can’t afford to pay cash bail. 

We’re asking candidates to: 

  • Stop recommending that judges set cash bail and instead use other proven tools to ensure return to court.
  • Release people jailed pre-arraignment and seek appearance before a judicial officer within 24-48 hours for anyone still detained.
  • Strengthen the presumption of release on personal recognizance.
  • Seek the least restrictive conditions of release necessary.
  • Preserve the speedy trial rights of defendants by refusing to seek delays in trials, and dismiss cases that are delayed beyond 18 months.
  • Eliminate the consideration of racially disparate factors in pretrial recommendations.

Juvenile Justice

We know that most people who engaged in risky behavior or criminal activity in their youth don’t continue to do so as adults. That is why the United States Supreme Court in a series of landmark decisions declared that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional and directed the resentencing of all juvenile lifers. In its decision, the Court warned that only in “rare and unusual” cases should a juvenile be sentenced to life without parole. It is taking years for Michigan to resentence the 360 people serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed as children. Prosecutors should lead the way by treating youth through a lens of treatment and rehabilitation, seeking to minimize their contact with the criminal legal system

We’re asking candidates to: 

  • Refuse to prosecute youth for typical adolescent behavior and establish non-criminal diversion programming where appropriate.
  • Stop seeking life sentences, and advocate against life without parole for juveniles.
  • Eliminate waivers of juveniles into adult court.
  • Ensure juveniles resentenced to life without parole have the opportunity for release.

Transparency 

Too little information is made public about how a prosecutor’s office operates, how many cases are charged, how many plead, and who is diverted. This lack of transparency prevents Michigan residents and voters from being able to evaluate how their elected officials are aligning with community values and how taxpayer funds are being utilized. We need fully transparent policies, practices, and outcomes to enable public understanding of the prosecutor’s role and job performance which will allow voters to hold their prosecutors accountable.

We’re asking candidates to:

  • Gather and publish quarterly statistics on race, ethnicity, and gender of defendants along with information about charging decisions, convictions, deferred prosecutions, and diversion program placements.
  • Create a Conviction Integrity Unit that reviews innocence claims, due process violations, corrupt law enforcement practices, and excessive sentences.
  • Implement a policy of open file discovery through which defendants or their attorneys have timely access to the prosecutor’s entire files.
  • Create a community advisory board that represents impacted communities including immigrant communities, formerly incarcerated communities, communities of color, and the LGBTQ+ community to determine the priorities of the prosecutor’s office.
  • Publish all office policies and protocols online.

To see our full briefing book sent to all prosecuting attorney candidates, click here.