Washtenaw Co. becomes first in state to ditch cash bail

Savit cites disproportionate effect on low-income residents, POC

Susan J. Demas

New Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit announced Monday that his office has eliminated the use of cash bail, making the county the first jurisdiction in Michigan to do so.

“I pledged during the campaign that we would not be seeking cash bail, and I’m proud to make good on that promise today,” Savit said in a statement. “Cash bail is inherently inequitable and unjust. The size of a person’s bank account should never determine their freedom.”

The use of a for-profit cash bail system inherently impacts low income people, as those who cannot afford to secure release from jail pending trial are forced to stay incarcerated for minor crimes. More affluent individuals, on the other hand, can simply pay their way out.

Eli Savit

The practice of exchanging money for a defendant’s bond is commonplace in the United States, despite being banned by most other countries around the world. Some U.S. jurisdictions have recently started banning the practice, however,  including Washington, D.C., New Jersey, San Francisco, Vermont’s Chittenden County and Virginia’s Fairfax County.

Savit clarified in a statement Monday that the prosecutor office’s new policy “still allows for the detention of people who pose an imminent threat to the community in an attempt to ensure public safety.

The Democrat ran on a progressive platform for criminal justice reforms and was sworn in Friday. He rolled out the new policy Monday morning through a 20-page directive issued to staff ordering assistant prosecuting attorneys to no longer request cash bond in any case.

Prosecutors will instead need to make individualized assessments about each defendant’s dangerousness and flight risk. Appropriate non-monetary conditions may also be sought to ensure public safety.

The policy holds that prosecutors should prohibit defendants accused of domestic violence from possessing firearms.

Savit’s new policy also acknowledges that the practice of cash bail has exacerbated the American racial wealth gap.

“People who lack wealth in the United States are disproportionately likely to be Black” due to “cascading consequences that have accrued from centuries of discrimination,” the directive reads, which has resulted in Black and brown defendants receiving higher bail amounts while also being less likely to be able to afford it.