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Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Wayne County Prosecutor Challenger Victoria Burton-Harris Says Prosecutor’s Office is “Still Getting it Wrong”

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Image credit: Courtesy: Victoria Burton-Harris for Wayne County Prosecutor

Victoria Burton-Harris, who is running against incumbent Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, says she would put an end to prosecuting low-level offenses from people suffering from mental illness or substance addiction.

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With key state and local elections coming up in August, criminal justice reform is at the forefront of many people’s minds. Calls to fundamentally rethink our criminal justice system are getting louder.

Among those who are calling for change are some Michigan Democrats who are now challenging incumbent prosecutors of their own party. That includes Victoria Burton-Harris, a criminal defense attorney who says she did not initially want to run for Wayne County prosecutor.

It was not my plan to spend my career becoming a traditional prosecutor. You can either be a social engineer for justice, or you can be a parasite on your community. I didn’t want to be a parasite on my community,” Burton-Harris says. “You can actually use the power of that office for good. I realized that we could do things differently with the power of a prosecutor who was forward-thinking and progressive.”

Interview: Victoria Burton-Harris

Candidate for Wayne County Prosecutor, running against incumbent Kym Worthy who will join Detroit Today for an interview on Monday, July 20 at 9:00 a.m.

We are still getting it wrong. We are jailing too many people, and the wrong people.” - Victoria Burton-Harris, candidate for Wayne County Prosecutor

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Candidate Brief

Key experience: Burton-Harris is a criminal defense attorney in Wayne County and managing partner of McCaskey Law

Major endorsements: Planned Parenthood of Michigan, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and musician John Legend.

Issues:

  • De-Prioritizing Low-Level Offenses: Burton-Harris says she feels her opponent, incumbent Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, uses a “charge now, investigate later” system of prosecution. “The way that you address that is by focusing on the crime that matters… you do not go after low-level offenses from people who are suffering from mental illness, people who are battling with substance addiction,” she says. ”Those issues are public health crises, those issues are not something that can be fixed with the criminal justice system… We are still getting it wrong. We are jailing too many people, and the wrong people.”
  • Reducing Wrongful Convictions: One of the major challenges Wayne County faces, according to Burton-Harris, is Wayne County’s high rate of wrongful convictions: ”Wayne County has more wrongful convictions than all other counties combined. You address them on the backend, but that’s not where you start. The start should be in the warrant division of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office, where we consistently have a rubber-stamping of warrant requests.”
  • Marijuana Expungement: Burton-Harris says that she would create an automatic marijuana expungement system, similar to those used in other jurisdictions. The process would cost an estimated $15,000 and utilize cell phone data, voter rolls, and driver’s license information.
  • Ending Facial-Recognition Software in Law Enforcement: Burton-Harris says she would also put an end to the use of facial recognition software in law enforcement. She is currently an attorney for Robert Williams, a Black man from Farmington Hills who was wrongly arrested for shoplifting by Detroit police officers after facial recognition software was used to identify him. “When it comes to that technology, when you add in racist and broken technology to an already racist and broken system, you get a racist and broken outcome. You only exacerbate the system’s flaws,” she says.

This article was written by Detroit Today student producer Ali Audet.


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