Justice Reform in Washtenaw County

League of Women Voters Washtenaw County

Oct 22 2021 • 1 hr 28 mins

The U.S. incarcerates a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country in the world: with 5% of the world’s population, we have nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners. The U.S. spends tens of billions of tax dollars annually to keep more than 2 million men and women in prison – a vast increase over the last 40 years. Prisoners of the United States are primarily poor and people of color, with policing practices like arbitrary traffic stops, “broken window” patrolling, and cash bail imprisoning people for trivial or non-existent offenses and further impoverishing them.  The human cost of mass incarceration in the U.S. is incalculable. The social cost – in terms of broken homes, crushed potential, lost workforce and creative contributions, and diversion of public funding for schools and other social goods – is staggering. Solutions to the complex problem of mass incarceration begin with local law enforcement practices. We are fortunate in Washtenaw County to have brilliant leaders devoted to ensuring that our “justice system” lives up to its name. This program presents two of these leaders.

Victoria Burton-Harris serves as the Chief Assistant Prosecutor for Washtenaw County.  Passionate about the relationship between law, social justice and equality, she has devoted her career, in both her private firm and public office, to youth development and criminal justice reform, to spurring investment in community and divestment from the criminal justice system. Victoria takes a holistic approach to her work, helping people build stability in their lives that reaches beyond a courtroom by collaborating with community partners to assist her clients in maintaining stable housing and jobs and treatment for mental health and substance abuse. After years of witnessing over-charging, excessive bail, and prosecutorial vindictiveness, Ms. Burton-Harris realized that her efforts to end mass incarceration as a private "people's lawyer" would never be sufficient. Effective change would require a transformation of the gatekeeper to the criminal justice system: the county prosecutor. Ms. Burton-Harris believes a progressive prosecutor pursues fair and equal justice for all, promotes the goals of individualized justice, and is transparent and accountable to the people. Ms. Burton-Harris’s work has been highlighted by CNN, Democracy Now, The Guardian, Essence, The New York Times, The Appeal, The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News and local Detroit news stations FOX 2 Detroit, WDIV and WXYZ Detroit.

Belinda Dulin is Executive Director of the Dispute Resolution Center, serving Washtenaw and Livingston Counties.  As the executive director of the DRC, she and her team have implemented a variety of conflict resolution programs in district and circuit courts.  Additionally, services have been provided to schools serving students, families, and school staff in identifying and resolving barriers and issues that affect student relationships. The DRC partners with the Washtenaw County Peacemaking Court to provide peacemaking circles to families in the child protection and delinquency systems.