The results of the report demonstrate the critical need for all agencies within the criminal legal system to track, analyze, and publicly share data about decision-making and its impact.  


DETROIT – Today, the ACLU of Michigan, along with the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, University of Michigan Law School, and University of Michigan Poverty Solutions, released a new report, The Prosecutor Transparency Project, which documents racial disparities in the Washtenaw County criminal legal system. The report includes analysis of nearly 35,000 cases from 2017 through 2022 and covers various stages of the prosecutorial process.  

Here are some of the report’s findings:  

  • People of color, especially Black people, are disproportionately represented in police warrant requests. (When law enforcement agencies recommend that the prosecutor’s office charge someone with a crime, they “request a warrant” for that individual.) Of the nearly 35,000 warrant requests submitted to the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office from 2017 to 2022, 52.2 percent were for people of color even though they make up only 30 percent of the county population. Black people make up nearly 50 percent of all warrant requests despite making up just 12.2 percent of the county population. The report did not examine the factors or causes driving this disparity. 
  • The prosecutor’s office was 0.7 percentage points more likely to authorize charges for people of color than for white people. 
  • People of color were charged with crimes having maximum sentences 2.15 months longer than white defendants in similar circumstances. 
  • People of color faced 0.05 more charges per case on average than white defendants in similar circumstances.  
  • Among those eligible, white people were more likely than people of color to be designated as habitual offenders, which means longer maximum sentences. 
  • The study also analyzed whether there were racial disparities in admissions to diversion programs, which allow a person to avoid a criminal record upon completion. The study found no evidence of racial disparities into whether similarly situated people are admitted into two programs: the Prosecutor’s pre-plea diversion program, and the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act. 
  • The study sought to identify potential racial disparities in plea-bargaining decisions, but the research team determined that data limitations precluded them from reaching a conclusion. 

The report is based on thousands of records the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office shared for analysis with the University of Michigan’s researchers, who provided a deep-dive review of prosecutorial decision-making for the five-year period. It is the first time a Michigan prosecutor’s office has partnered with independent researchers who had access to felony and misdemeanor files to do the analysis. 

The Prosecutor Transparency Project follows the release of the 2020 Race to Justice report by Citizens for Racial Equity in Washtenaw County (CREW), which first revealed racial disparities in the county’s criminal legal system. The CREW report was based on limited data obtained through publicly accessible information available on the Washtenaw County Circuit Court’s website and was, in part, a catalyst for the Prosecutor Transparency Project study.  

Loren Khogali, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director, had this response to the report:  

“While the racial disparities this report documents are unsurprising, they are deeply disturbing and again confirm why transparency in every aspect of our criminal legal system is so vital. To begin to address the disparate impact of the criminal legal system on Black people and other people of color, it is critical that all agencies within it track, analyze, and publicly share the decisions made at every stage of the criminal legal process. We commend the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office for taking a look in the proverbial mirror and contributing to a growing body of data-driven studies, including the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pre-Trial Incarceration report and the Michigan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform report, which also show how our criminal legal system has an inequitable impact on people of color, especially Black people. This report adds to the imperative that agency leaders throughout Michigan, including police chiefs, prosecutors, judges, and court administrators, also hold themselves accountable by examining their part in our deeply flawed criminal legal system.”  

The next critical phase of the Prosecutor Transparency Project is to identify ways the public can access the data in real time with a tool that helps measure how the prosecutor’s office is making decisions and their impact on the community.