Washtenaw prosecutor won't charge juveniles for low-level crimes

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Newly elected Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit said Monday his office will no longer prosecute children for low-level crimes.

The change is the third major police shift announced by Savit since he took office Jan. 1.

Under the new policy, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office will “avoid charging juveniles with minor offenses that are best resolved outside of the criminal-justice system,” Savit said. 

Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit

The low-level crimes include "status-based” offenses such as truancy, curfew violations, and running away from home; tobacco or vaping-related offenses; disorderly conduct and crimes related to juvenile use of marijuana or alcohol.

In a 10-page policy directive issued Monday to his office's assistant prosecutorys, Savit stressed that “voluminous scientific research and legal doctrine” indicates that “children (and teenagers) are not small adults.”

The prosecutor said since the brains of juvenile are “still developing,” the directive children and teen are more likely to engage in “risky behavior”— and less likely to be “deterred by potential punishment.”

While “young people are more susceptible to trauma and to fear than adults," a "punitive approach" dealing with them could severely hinder the neurological, emotional and social growth of youngsters and teens, Savit said. He added that a "punishment-oriented approach to juvenile justice is largely counterproductive.”

Earlier this month, Savit announced his office would end cash bail for defendants, saying the practice punishes the poor.

"America’s system of cash bail is unfair, inequitable, and imposes severe harm on communities," Savit said Jan. 4. 

A week and a half later, Savit said  his office was ending the practice of prosecuting sex workers who engage in consensual sex.

"The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office is well aware that sex work carries an increased risk for violence, human trafficking, and coercion. Data and experience, however, have shown that criminalizing sex work does little to alleviate those harms," Savit said in the statement. "Indeed the criminalization of sex work actually increases the risk of sex work adjacent harm." 

Elected in November, Savit is a former school teacher and a former law clerk to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He also is a faculty member at the University of Michigan Law School.