By Simon Albaugh – YAN-
In the fifth installment of County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s Town Halls, the prosecutor focused on a number of task forces that have seen major changes in the years since she started.
Taking center stage in the opening speech was the Conviction Integrity Unit. Originally started in January of 2018, it’s released many innocent people from serving more time in Prison. Some, like Aaron Salter of Detroit, spent over a decade in prison before they were released and found innocent.
The Conviction Integrity Unit has five full-time staff members processing around 500 cases each year. Although in a report, the County Prosecutor said she’d like to double the amount of cases reviewed each year.
Michigan Attorney General announced the formation of a state-wide Conviction Integrity Unit in April of the following year to handle wrongful conviction cases outside of Wayne County.
The Town Hall was also an opportunity for the County Prosecutor to explain the work that her office does for the county. Citing the need for a bold office, she talked about Wayne County Courts handling about 41% of all felony cases in the State of Michigan.
The Prosecutor’s office also handles the specific cases involving special victims, such as women or children. Known as the Special Victim’s Unit, they handle cases like the 9,000 domestic violence claims each year.
The unit has also made a more “victim-centered” process for tracking a case. “Just like tracking a package you ordered online,” Prosecutor Worthy said. “You can track the location and status of your sexual assault kit if, God forbid, you find yourself in that situation.”
The victim-centered focus came after Worthy’s office processed 11,000 sexual assault kits going as far back as 40 years ago. Some reports say that the kits didn’t get tested because the Detroit Police Department wasn’t able to process them during the years of its decline. While others claim that it’s because of the attitude toward the women involved in the case.
As a result of the 11,000 kits being tested, Worthy said over 200 convictions have come from the initiative.
Some of the other issues that Prosecutor Worthy focused on were the drug courts and mental health reforms. For those who find themselves in the criminal justice system with minor crimes as a result of mental health crisis or substance abuse, prosecutors will try to direct them toward treatment and recovery. Rather than just doing nothing while those people enter and re-enter the criminal justice system.
Worthy also clarified some of the concerns around school threats. She made it clear that any threat to schools will be taken seriously. In the era after major events like the Parkland Shooting and Columbine, school threats are also prosecuted, even when kids make them as a prank.
County Prosecutor Kym Worthy is also lobbying for Safe Storage laws for firearms. She cited 27 deaths in a year as a result of guns getting in the wrong hands because gun owners didn’t lock their guns. Most of the deaths involved children.
The last one involved a group of prosecutors known as the Public Integrity Unit. They focus on investigating the performance of police officers and other institutions that exist based on a matter of public trust.
“we try to do our best,” Worthy said. “But we’re human. And the criminal justice system is only as good as the humans in charge of it.”
This is the fifth Town Hall that the County Prosecutor’s office organized. Other cities, like Detroit and Northville, have also hosted similar town halls.
“We’re hoping to get out and try to explain what the office does,” Worthy said. “And what we are trying to do to answer any question we have, hopefully, to give a bump in the public confidence in the office.”
The public was also given the chance to address some questions to the Prosecutor herself. Many elected to address grievances that had otherwise been left unanswered. One such person’s son was murdered and never received a response about starting an investigation. Another had documents proving police officers committing perjury.
And finally, one of the men who had been released through the conviction integrity unit asked how people could become involved with the workings of the Prosecutors office.
“She does it by the law by the book,” Abed Hammoud said. Hammoud is the former assistant prosecutor to Kym Worthy. He now works at a private Law practice and as a professor for Henry Ford Community College.
“We fought for our victims and fought for the public. And that’s all we do. We do justice and if the case is not there, we dismiss it if we have charged on you. So what you see is what you get. I’m really glad she comes out and people get to know her.”