When it comes to Michigan’s criminal legal system, the time is now for massive change. The senseless, horrific death of George Floyd, captured in gruesome detail on video, has sparked protests against police racism and abuse throughout the United States. 

Finally, a broad cross section of America is saying enough is enough as people of all races are taking to the streets, day after day, to demand justice. It is a heartening sight that gives us all hope that a more just country is within reach.  

Here in Michigan, we’re in the midst of an incarceration crisis that is tearing apart families, exacerbating racial injustice, and costing the state billions–while at the same time failing to improve public safety.  

But fundamentally changing policing is only part of the equation. Also needed is a spotlight on local prosecutors, who wield immense amounts of power in our criminal legal system. They are key in helping bring this crisis to an end. 

 The ACLU of Michigan, through its Campaign for Smart Justice, is ready to flip the switch on that spotlight, focusing attention on the people campaigning to be elected prosecutors in upcoming races across the state. To that end, we’ve launched a statewide prosecutorial accountability campaign, “The Power of Prosecutors” ahead of the 2020 elections. The mission of the campaign is to advance a vision for a fair and just criminal legal system that strives to end mass incarceration and eliminate racial disparities. To achieve this goal, the campaign is educating Michigan voters across the state about the power thecounty prosecutor has in their community and where they stand on key issues, including police accountability, racial justice, and transparency.  

Why are we doing that? 

Ultimately, if change is to occur, it must come through you, the public. To make a sound decision when casting a ballot, voters need as much information about the candidates and their positions as possible.The ACLU is providing that information. We’ve sent surveys to all 110 candidates running to become prosecutors in upcoming elections, including the 2020 election, across the state. The candidate responses are posted online at smartjusticeMI.org so that voters can discern which candidates support crucial reforms, and how they plan to implement them if elected. 

The good news is that, based on survey results, a significant majority of Michiganders are ready to move past traditional “tough-on-crime” prosecutors and embrace people who bring a more enlightened and progressive ethic to the job. An April 2020 poll conducted by Change Research and the ACLU of Michigan shows that voters statewide overwhelmingly support county prosecutor candidates who will confront and dismantle racial disparities in Michigan’s criminal legal system and end mass incarceration. 

The current system is clearly broken. Michigan’s incarceration skyrocketed between 1980 and 2016, growing by 172 percent. Even as crime rates have fallen, more and more people – disproportionately people of color – continue to get locked up. Michigan must do better. As a matter of fact, we can’t afford to continue down this path. The Michigan Department of Corrections spent more than $2 billion in 2016 on corrections costs. Locally, Michigan taxpayers spent $478 million on county jails, ensnaring thousands of people who likely are not a threat to society, wasting precious dollars that could be used on crime prevention, education, and mental health services. 

That has to change, and prosecutors are key to making it happen. In fact, we are already seeing it occur elsewhere in America. In cities such as Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago and Seattle, a new wave of reform-minded county and district attorneys have been put in office by voters who are demanding that incarceration be drastically reduced and structural frameworks be created to tackle racism in the criminal justice system 

Prosecutors can and should lead the way to meaningfully reduce Michigan’s jail and prison population as well. This requires a well-planned, intentional, and aggressive effort to ensure we are electing people to the position who share the values held by the vast majority of Michiganders who are demanding real justice now. 

Please join us in making that happen. You can start becoming involved now by going to our Prosecutor Accountability website to learn the positions of candidates in your county. If there are candidates you are interested in but haven’t replied, contact them and let them know if they want any chance of getting your vote, the first thing they need to do is respond and make it clear where they stand on the critical issues we have laid out.