PEG Guest Contributor: Eli Savit, Washtenaw County Prosecutor
More than 60% of Washtenaw County residents over 16 years of age have now received at least one dose of the vaccine. Although COVID’s end appears to be in sight, the county—like the nation—will continue to grapple with the fallout of the pandemic for years to come. Even once the threat of COVID transmission disappears, people will continue to suffer from adverse effects relating to mental health and economic insecurity. The CDC reports that young adults and racial/ethnic minorities will be disproportionately impacted by that fallout.
And make no mistake: these are public safety issues. Across the country, we are already seeing an increase in certain types of crime, driven by COVID-related spikes in unemployment, poverty, substance abuse, and mental health crises. And when more people become involved in the criminal legal system, the long-term fallout can be severe.
Indeed, the adverse effects of involvement with the criminal justice system permeate throughout local economies. According to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice, 61% of those who are incarcerated are between the ages of 18 and 39. The effects of removing this population who are in the prime of their working life reduces the productivity of the labor force and has adverse long-term effects on unemployment, infrastructure, and poverty.
So what’s the solution? Of course, law enforcement will continue to respond to criminal activity, and our office will continue to prosecute it. But the best public-safety strategy is a preventative one—one which seeks to stop crime before it even happens. That means investing in programs that are proven to reduce the likelihood of future criminal involvement, including educational programs and mental-health and substance-use treatment.
There have been glimmers of hope on these fronts. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan allows localities to use stimulus funds to reduce the second-order fallout of the COVID pandemic. Governor Whitmer recently proposed an unprecedented increase in educational funding. But cross-system collaboration is key to achieving results. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that all of our systems are interconnected—and that solving tough issues requires cross-system response. Let’s build on those lessons, and seize this opportunity to create a safer, healthier, and more vibrant community for everyone.