The ACLU of Michigan is launching a campaign to hold prosecutors responsible for inequities in the criminal justice system.
The group says prosecutors are the single most powerful elected individuals who decide who gets incarcerated, and for how long.
“Prosecuting attorneys in Michigan have more opportunity and power than any other elected official to make immediate changes to reduce incarceration rates and to combat the systemic racism that characterizes our carceral system,” the ACLU said in a release. “A prosecuting attorney determines the policies and procedures that dictate how cases are prosecuted in a county, how diversion programs are implemented, how plea deals are negotiated, and ultimately how many residents sit behind bars.”
ACLU of Michigan public engagement strategist Jessica Ayoub said prosecutors are also the most important factor when it comes to holding police responsible for brutality, and unconstitutional policing. “Prosecutors play a key role in making sure that that happens, and that we are holding police accountable every step of the criminal legal system,” Ayoub said.
Ayoub says educating voters about their choices in upcoming prosecutor elections is also a key part of the campaign, which includes a voter guide. It also urges prosecutors to sign on to a series of reforms the ACLU says make for “smart justice”—measures that reduce incarceration while protecting public safety.
Those measures include conscious efforts to combat racism and racial bias in prosecution; promoting alternatives to incarceration, such as diversion programs and ending the prosecution of certain low-level crimes; pre-trial reforms, such as ending cash bail; juvenile justice; and data transparency.
Ayoub said with the current national focus on overhauling police departments and how they do business, prosecutors are due for a reckoning over their role as well. “By holding prosecutors accountable, we are addressing issues of mass incarceration before someone even enters the criminal legal system, calling for transparency and accountability,” she said.