Friday, March 30, 2018

Editorial: Washtenaw County needs a progressive prosecuting attorney

Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney, Brian Mackie, at an Oct. 11, 2012 League of Women Voters candidate forum. Mackie has held the office since 1992. (Photo from The Ann Arbor Chronicle.)
Last year Philadelphia elected a progressive district attorney. Larry Krasner, a civil rights attorney, campaigned on a reformist agenda. Since taking office, Krasner has not disappointed. He has instructed all prosecutors to stop charging cannabis possession, regardless of weight. He has instructed all prosecutors to stop charging sex workers with fewer than three convictions. Sex workers with three or more convictions are to be referred to a special diversionary program. Importantly, in his first week on the job, Krasner fired 31 prosecuting attorneys who were not committed to his reformist agenda. You can read more about the great work Larry Krasner is doing in Shaun King's article for the Intercept.

Why am I writing about an elected official in Philadelphia on this local website? I am writing DA Krasner because in our criminal justice system, under the principle of prosecutorial discretion, prosecutors have wide latitude in terms of which charges they bring. Krasner is using his discretion to enact sweeping criminal justice reforms. I would like to see the Washtenaw County Prosecutor undertake similar progressive reforms.

Specifically I would like to see the following:
1. An immediate end to all prosecutions for possession of controlled substances, regardless of weight. Substance use disorders are a serious public health problem. The criminal justice system is not the right tool to address public health problems. People who have substance use disorders should not face any criminal justice sanctions that result from their disease. Furthermore, treating addicts is less costly than jailing and/or imprisoning them. Recreational drug users are harming themselves to some degree, but that does not mean that they should face sanction from the criminal justice system. We allow adults to choose to do harmful things without imprisoning them in our society. In short, it is immoral and expensive to prosecute and imprison people with substance use disorders as well as recreational drug users. Money should instead be spent on harm reduction and fully funding robust treatment services. The minute someone in Washtenaw County who has a substance use disorder decides they want to seek treatment, there should be space available for them in a local treatment facility regardless of their ability to pay. 
2. An immediate end to prosecutions of consensual sex workers. Yes, we should prosecute human traffickers and people who coerce others into sex work against their will. No, we should not prosecute adults who choose to be sex workers. In our society you can support yourself by being born wealthy, exploiting others, or selling your labor. In our system, the only way to truly end sex work would be to end work, and that is well beyond the scope of this editorial. 
3. An emphasis on diversion programs for all other crimes, especially non-violent crimes. Jail and prison are not places that help people be better. They are also very expensive. The prosecutors office should be run in with these principals in mind. 
4. An end to cash bail for most charges. People who are charged with most crimes should not be jailed before trial.
Washtenaw County's current Prosecuting Attorney is Brian Mackie. He has held the office since 1992 and his current term is up in 2020. This means Mackie has 2 years to use his power to enact serious progressive reforms. If he fails to do so, we should vote him out of office in favor of a prosecutor who will use the powers of the office to enact the reforms mentioned above.

3 comments:

  1. This is excellent. I believe a judge started a Restorative Justice program in our county awhile ago. Does it still exist?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Judge Tim Connors has a peacemaking court for his juvenile court.

    ReplyDelete
  3. People forget that Prosecuting Attorney is an elected position which wields great influence over a community. As such, I encourage everyone to treat Mr. Mackie as they would any other elected official and correspond freely with him, ask questions, FOIA cases and correspondence, assert your right to know just exactly what he is up to. As with all elected officials, I would like to see reasonable term limits, barring that, we need to find a legitimate challenger for his seat, at every opportunity. I've heard some disturbing things about the way he goes about the people's business, when his only job is to seek justice. We need to make sure he knows that.

    ReplyDelete