Candidate Spotlight: Kym Worthy
Kym Worthy is on the August 4 Democratic Primary ballot as a candidate for the office of Wayne County Prosecutor, an office she has held since 2004 when she became the first African American and the first female to hold the position.
Worthy began her legal career in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in 1984, and in 1989 she became the first African American selected by the office as a “Special Assignment” Prosecutor. Worthy was elected judge of the Recorder’s Court for the City of Detroit in 1994 and became a judge for the Wayne County Circuit Court in 1997 following the merger of the two courts.
Worthy received an undergraduate degree in economics and political science from the University of Michigan and a law degree from the University of Notre Dame School of Law. In the days leading up to the August 4 primary, Worthy responded to questions from Michigan Chronicle contributor Scott Talley.
What does Kym Worthy stand for?
“Truth. Integrity. Honesty. Forthrightness. Boldness. Trusted, proven and fearless leadership. Experience. Innovation. I have done what is right, just, moral and fair regardless of what is popular. This has been proven repeatedly. I was fearless in being the first prosecutor in the United States to convict on-duty police officers of murder. This began a 28-year journey combating police brutality and lobbying for police reform. My experience includes thousands of trials and hearings as a prosecutor and thousands of trials and hearings as a circuit court judge. I have been the county’s chief prosecutor for 16 years, making tough decisions every single day. With COVID-19, the loss of resources, escalating violence and uncertain tomorrows, this is not a time for untested and inexperienced leadership. I have faced the tests, done what is right and continue to be innovative.”
What is Kym Worthy’s message to Wayne County’s African American community?
“I have the experience to lead in these tough times. I created over 15 diversion programs when no one else was doing this because I believe that treatment, proactivity, alternatives to incarceration, and getting to the root causes of crime are essential parts of protecting the community. More than 18,000 youth and adults, most of them people of color, have been appropriately diverted from the criminal justice system. As a decades-long mental health advocate, I also focus on appropriate solutions for the mentally ill.
“I created our Public Integrity Unit over 15 years ago. This unit has specially trained prosecutors that exclusively handle police brutality, shootings and misconduct 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Over the last few years, over 70 officers have been charged. I created the first Conviction Integrity Unit in Michigan. No prosecutor’s office should be afraid to seriously examine old convictions and make sure they are sound. This unit is now nationally recognized, and to date we have exonerated 20 men. We have done 95 hearings on cases in which juveniles were sentenced to life in prison – almost none in my administration – and 61 have been released. More hearings are planned.
“I have been fighting for 11 years for the victims represented by over 11,000 rape evidence kits abandoned by police. Eighty-six percent of those kits belonged to people of color. These victims were ignored and disrespected until our office stood up for them.
“I have created programs for senior citizens, immigrants, and the LGBTQ population, all previously ignored by the criminal justice system in Michigan and Wayne County. And, even though prosecutors do not set bail, I believe that there should be no cash bail for civil infractions, non-assaultive misdemeanors, or traffic offenses except drunk driving and criminal traffic fatalities.”
And how will Kym Worthy deliver on her message to Wayne County’s African American community?
“The next two fiscal years are going to be very painful financially for everyone. Experienced leadership is needed. We will not only have to fight for every dollar and obtain even more specialty grants than we have now (approximately $12 million). We will continue to confront America’s mass incarceration issue by continuing our large-scale programs for diversion, treatment, restorative justice and alternatives to incarceration. We expect to divert at least 5,000 more youth and adults from the criminal justice system.
“We have now also turned to mediation as an alternative to charging. This program is called “Talk It Out,” where we have partnered with the Wayne County Dispute Resolution Center, and solutions to disputes are mediated with the youth, his or her parents and the victims. We will expand this to adults.
“I will use my influence to support certain bail reform bills. We are working on wrap-around services for the newly exonerated, including college tuition, transportation, housing, and mental health services. We are continuing our work on criminal justice and police reform – things that I have done for years and where I will join with the statewide prosecutors’ organization, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, in working with the Legislature. We are also determined to get our Community Court program up and running. This program would allow trained community members to alternatively sentence neighborhood defendants to a punishment short of incarceration.”
Candidate Spotlight: Victoria Burton-Harris
Victoria Burton-Harris is on the August 4 Democratic Primary ballot as a candidate for the office of Wayne County Prosecutor, an office elected every four years whose responsibilities include prosecuting felony cases throughout Wayne County.
A native of Flint, Burton-Harris, received an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in political science and African American studies, and a law degree from the Wayne State University Law School. She began her law career as an associate attorney with Detroit-based William W. Swor & Associates. A criminal-defense attorney, Burton-Harris is currently managing partner of McCaskey Law, a firm headquartered in downtown Detroit which specializes in criminal defense and family law.
In the days leading up to the August 4 primary, Burton-Harris responded to questions from Michigan Chronicle contributor Scott Talley.
What does Victoria Burton-Harris stand for?
“I believe that to be a Black lawyer means having one of two options—either be a social engineer for justice or a parasite on my community. Charles Hamilton Houston, a well-known Black lawyer and dean of Howard Law School, once echoed those words, and I live by them. Having a degree in African American studies and political science, I am aware that the 13th Amendment allows continued slavery through the criminal-legal system, in response to crime. As a defense attorney, I have seen the criminal-injustice system decimate Black families and poor families. It is a parasitic system that feasts on the bodies of not just Black and poor folks, but also our children, and those battling with mental illness and substance abuse. I believe that our leaders have an obligation to allow research and data to dictate how they lead, along with listening to the people who are represented. The people and data are clear. We cannot continue to simply jail our way out of crime. We must focus on intervention and prevention, and invest in our communities, our children and resources to address the root causes of crime.”
What is Victoria Burton-Harris’ message to Wayne County’s African American community?
“Wayne County is only 39 percent Black, yet the Wayne County jail is over 70 percent Black. This is a systemic problem that must not be allowed to go on. We have a chance to do something different this year on August 4. I am hopeful that with the national uprising and a call to end mass incarceration of Black people and criminal justice reform, we will make the right choice.
“If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we will continue to get what we’ve always gotten. We have never adequately addressed the root causes of crime; we have only sought to simply punish people without aiming to rehabilitate. This means that folks repeat their behavior because no one has intervened and invested in them and given them resources to not just survive but thrive. The root causes of crime are poverty, lack of resources, education inequality, unaddressed trauma, undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, substance abuse and racial inequity.”
How will Victoria Burton-Harris deliver on her message to Wayne County’s African American community?
“Our campaign has turned into a movement and is powered by the people. We have been knocking on doors, phoning and texting voters, mailing voters and popping up on their television screens and devices with paid ads. Several organizations have endorsed me and our campaign is working hard to get our message to voters with the help of a large base of volunteers. We are the change we have been waiting on.”
The Michigan Chronicle’s Choice for Wayne County Prosecutor: Kym Worthy
The increased attention that the Wayne County’s Prosecutor’s race has received is good for our community. And during this time of heightened community awareness, with more eyes on the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, we need the “lawyer for the people” to be a proven, results-oriented leader, who responds to critical community needs with initiatives and programs that are both sound and innovative. We point to the 15 diversion programs created by Kym Worthy. As a result, more than 18,000 youth and adults—mostly people of color—have been diverted from the criminal justice system. These programs are an example of Worthy’s leadership and innovation. With that said, from what we hear from readers, there is still a perception among a significant segment of our community that the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has not done enough publicly to create goodwill, particularly in the City of Detroit. We believe this perception can be remedied with more positive community outreach from the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office going forward, and we fully expect that to happen in the future. It is with that expectation, along with Worthy’s track record of leadership and innovation, that we endorse her for the Aug. 4 primary.