Washtenaw County will no longer charge juveniles for low-level offenses: 'We need to treat kids like kids'

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We didn't know it was possible to fall in love with a prosecutor, but here we are, crushing on Washtenaw County's Eli Savit and his flurry of aggressive — and progressive — directives to move the county forward.

Most recently added to the list of policy changes he has enacted since taking office on Jan. 1 — which includes no longer pursuing charges involving consensual sex work or relating to marijuana or magic mushrooms — is a 10-page directive that states that Washtenaw County will “no longer criminally charge low-level juvenile offenses against children.”

The directive, published Monday, states that “children (and teenagers) are not small adults” and that “the adolescent brain is still developing.” The directive also provides medical research that supports the fact that juveniles are “more susceptible to anxiety, fear, and trauma” and are highly receptive to peer-influence and reward-based systems. According to the directive and the associated research, children and teenagers are “less likely to be deterred by potential punishment.”
So, Savit says Washtenaw County will seek alternative deterrents outside of the criminal justice system to deal with juveniles and status-based crimes such as truancy, curfew violations, tobacco or vaping-related offenses, disorderly conduct, or offenses related to experimenting with marijuana or alcohol.

The new policy also says that “school-based offenses,” such as theft or fights, will no longer be handled by the criminal-justice system, but by the school system. The policy excludes elevated incidents like “serious assaults” or “major thefts.”

“As a former 8th-grade teacher, I know full well that young people will make mistakes,” Savit said. “But in most cases, these mistakes do not need to be addressed through our criminal legal system.”

Attorney's may authorize a delinquency petition, however, in those cases in which “a minor is dealing with a serious substance-abuse issue.” Once the individual successfully completes the substance-use programming, the charges may be dropped.

“The data is clear. In the typical circumstance, a detention-oriented approach makes it more likely a young person will commit future criminal acts,” Savit added. “Today’s policy directive is about providing a young person an opportunity to learn and grow from their mistakes, without being tethered to the criminal legal system. That’s the fair and humane thing to do. And it will also keep us safer in the long term.”

To read the complete directive, visit washtenaw.org.

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