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All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Prosecutors can make a difference!


I suppose it’s pretty unusual to pay tribute to a couple of Michigan Prosecutors during Black History Month. But then again, who could ever make the claim that Doug Tjapkes marches to a given drummer?

Those of us in prisoner advocacy rarely have high appreciation for county prosecutors. I have always grumbled about, what I call, a “prosecutor mentality.” I point out that prosecutors are elected to office, and it is not uncommon for the number of convictions to be a strong campaign issue for reelection.

To set the stage for my comments, let me first point out, as we observe Black History Month, that

-African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites
-Black men have a 1-in-3 chance of going to prison in their lifetime
-Among black kids, 1 in 9 has had a parent in prison.

Let’s move on with a couple more stats:

-Nearly 80% of prosecutors in the United States are white men, and
-Here in Michigan, we have 83 counties…21 with female prosecutors.

I’m paying tribute today to two of those prosecutors: Kym Worthy, in Wayne County; and Carol Siemon in Ingham County. Prosecutor Worthy is black, Prosecutor Siemon is white, but notably, both are women!

We’ve had our differences with Prosecutor Worthy, but we honor her today for forming Wayne County’s Conviction Integrity Unit. This unit “investigates claims of innocence, to determine whether there is clear and convincing new evidence that the convicted defendant was not the person who committed the conviction offense.” It’s about time! Chosen to head up this unit is another female lawyer of great integrity. Says the State Appellate Defender Office:  Valerie Newman has battled prosecutors as an attorney at the State Appellate Defenders Office for 23 years. Now she has joined the other side – to help her former opponents avoid sending innocent people to jail. 

We also pay tribute to Carole Siemon in Ingham County, today, for taking a bold approach to lifers in prison. Quoting an article in CityPulse: Siemon — with pro-bono help from former Assistant Attorney General Ron Emery — this year plans to begin a formal review of the 90 convicted murderers serving life in prison without parole in Ingham County. And for a select few, she said she plans to seek a gubernatorial commutation that could get them back out on the streets.

Why is she doing this?

“I just don’t believe in the death penalty,” Siemon explained. “I think life in prison without parole functions in a similar way, and I think everyone should have an opportunity to be able to get out some day.”

A tip of the HFP hat to these two prosecutors, striving to right some wrongs in Pure Michigan!

This is an election year. Know who you’re voting into the Prosecutor’s Office. There are things more important than party affiliation.

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