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Eli Savit, law, University of Michigan Law School

  • When: December 9, 2020, 12–1:30 pm
  • Where: Zoom: To register, contact Sophie Kofman at

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The Progressive Prosecutor Movement: Potential, Limitations, and Next Phases

Across the country, so-called “progressive prosecutors” have stood for—and won—multiple elections over the past several years. These elected prosecutors and district attorneys eschew the “tough-on-crime” rhetoric that has dominated prosecutorial elections for decades. Instead, their platforms prioritize criminal-justice reform, racial and socioeconomic equity, and moving beyond a punishment-oriented justice system.  “Progressive prosecutors” often come from non-traditional backgrounds. Their ranks including criminal defense attorneys, civil rights attorneys, and activists.

But prosecution is only one part of the criminal-justice system. Actors such as police, judges, correctional officials, and probation officers do not answer directly to prosecutors.

With the “progressive prosecutor” movement gaining steam, this presentation will thus focus on how these elected leaders can best achieve change. What levers do they have to pull—and where are they constrained? To what extent should criminal-justice reform take place inside the justice system, and to what extent should it take place outside of it? What can be done directly (through, for example, the exercise of prosecutorial discretion) and where is further political activity necessary? And how can a prosecutor’s actions drive or encourage change in other parts of the justice system—including policing, legislation, and/or the judiciary?

Photo and bio courtesy of University of Michigan Law School

Eli Savitis the Prosecuting Attorney-Elect in Washtenaw County, Michigan, and a lecturer at the University of Michigan Law School. In addition to his work on criminal-justice reform, Professor Savit practices, writes, and teaches in the areas of state and local government, civil rights, impact litigation, and environmental law.

Professor Savit was elected Prosecuting Attorney on a robust reform-oriented platform. Among other things, Professor Savit pledged to eliminate the use of cash bail by prosecutors, prioritize racial and socioeconomic equity, and reform the juvenile justice system. Professor Savit is one of dozens of reform-oriented prosecutors and district attorneys who have won election across the country in recent years.

Prior to his election as Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney, Professor Savit served as senior adviser and counsel to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. As the top attorney in the Mayor's Office, Professor Savit provided legal counsel on issues concerning the city and its executive branch—and oversaw legal strategy on high-profile legislation, intergovernmental negotiations, and executive action.

 In that capacity, Professor Savit led the City’s criminal-justice reform work. He spearheaded the City’s efforts to make it easier for people to expunge criminal records. He served as the City’s liaison to Michigan’s statewide task force on jail and pretrial incarceration. And he led a team of lawyers, statisticians, and trauma-informed professionals to craft city and state policies that will reduce the prison population, and promote rehabilitation and workforce-development for returning citizens.

 Working with the city’s law department, Professor Savit also directed public-interest litigation initiatives on behalf of the City of Detroit. He oversaw thousands of lawsuits against defendants who are alleged to have harmed Detroit residents through civil rights violations, consumer fraud, and predatory housing practices.


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