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Detroit Justice Center applauds elimination of cash bail in Washtenaw, calls on Wayne County Prosecutor to adopt a similar policy

The Detroit Justice Center welcomes the news that the Chief Prosecutor’s office in Washtenaw County, MI, lead by Eli Savit and Victoria Burton-Harris, will no longer pursue cash bail. So often, cash bail is used with little to no regard for an individuals’ ability to pay, nor the negative impact incarceration for even a day can have on a person’s life, including the loss of jobs, housing and custody of children. We thoroughly agree with their policy statement where they assert that “functionally speaking, cash bail thus provides one set of laws for the wealthy—and another set entirely for the poor and working class.” It is heartening to see this kind of policy come from a nearby prosecutor’s office. It speaks both to the untenable nature of cash bail, and to the remarkable shifts that can happen when stakeholders acknowledge the ways in which poverty is often criminalized.

Savit and Burton-Harris’ statement highlighted an example from Wayne County, MI where “a court required a man to sit in jail for two weeks because he could not afford a $200 cash bond stemming from a misdemeanor ticket for staying in a park after dark.” This case illuminates a common problem: our law code is rife with offenses that criminalize minor behaviors which, when coupled with cash bail, is the recipe for a botched policy cocktail. This new policy in Washetenaw County should be the baseline for prosecutor’s offices across the country. Research has shown that cash bail does not keep our communities any safer and in areas where bail has been eradicated, there haven’t been negative impacts on public safety.

Bail punishes those who can’t pay regardless of the offense, which perpetuates both class and racial inequity. The impact of our country’s long history of racial economic discrimination weighs heavily upon Detroit. We have the highest Black population in of any city in the nation and remain one of the poorest, as well. Given these realities, we call upon Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to enact a similar policy ending cash bail. The surest way to cement the criminal justice reforms recently brought into law by our state legislature is to ensure that we stop criminalizing poverty on the county level. We look to Wayne County’s prosecutors to make this crucial policy change. While we see this as a stepping stone towards equity, this shift in policy would drastically reduce the snowball effect that an arrest can have on a poor or working-class persons’ life. Ending cash bail should be a policy priority across Michigan, particularly in light of the pandemic which has seen unconscionable Covid-19 infection rates among incarcerated populations across the state.