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Arianne Slay has been a prosecutor for over a decade working in public service, and she wants to bring her experience in rehabilitative criminal justice to Washtenaw County as the county’s next lead prosecutor.
Slay grew up in Ann Arbor and currently lives with her husband and two children in Ypsilanti Township. She is a product of Ann Arbor Public Schools, and graduated from Michigan State with a Bachelor of Arts and a Juris Doctorate.
She is running against Hugo Mack and Eli Savit for Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney in the Democratic Primary.
A lifelong career in the criminal justice system
Slay started her public service career at the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, in the Community Corrections office, which aims to provide diversion opportunities for eligible individuals and to help with the reintegration of those individuals in the community.
Slay was the program manager at the time, “I was in charge of making sure the incarcerated-involved individuals were getting services while they were in the jail, to address whatever their needs were, and to help make arrangements for when they were released,” Slay said in an interview with the Echo.
Working as a public defender intern after her role at Community Corrections, Slay said it was at this moment she knew she wanted to be a prosecutor.
Slay said her internship was a fantastic learning experience, “it did solidify that I wanted to be a prosecutor, so I actually waited for almost 3 years before they had a job opening at the prosecutor’s office. I really only wanted to work where I grew up, and to serve my community.”
Early in her career, Slay took notice of the disproportionate number of Black Americans in the criminal justice system. She also noticed that a worrying number of individuals were returning to the system after being reintegrated into society.
“I was seeing a lot of the same people, and they were there for more serious crimes. And I just couldn’t help but think, why does everyone look like me? Why are the majority of people coming into custody Black? You notice that from day one,” Slay said.
Slay started working for the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s office in 2008, and was there for 9 years. She spent 6 years there as the lead domestic violence prosecutor.
Slay says this experience is crucial for doing the job well, “they don’t teach you how to be a prosecutor in school, you can’t read about it, it’s really just an on the job kind of thing.”
As a county attorney, Slay said she was not given the autonomy to implement the changes she thought were necessary. “We should be providing scaffolding and services, and making sure we are taking care of the root causes of injustice involved,” Slay said.
After she was offered a position for the City of Ann Arbor, Slay said the first question she had was about how much freedom she would have in the position. She wanted to implement programs and reforms that her position at the county prosecutor’s office didn’t allow her to do.
Slay said that in the three years she’s been at her current position, she has implemented programs and reforms that she now seeks to bring county-wide.
The blueprint for structural change in Washtenaw County
As a Senior Assistant Attorney, Slay has already implemented a major program she is advocating for in her campaign: diversion and deflection programs.
Diversion and deflection programs aim to handle certain criminal cases involving instances of substance abuse and mental health challenges, outside of the criminal justice system.
Proponents argue that diverting certain individuals away from the criminal justice system and towards a rehabilitative-oriented system, reduces the chances of recidivism and that for juveniles it can mean keeping kids out of the school-to-prison pipeline.
For Slay, that means implementing the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program alongside Sheriff Jerry Clayton, who has endorsed Slay.
The LEAD program aims to help communities handle low-level offenses that have root causes in mental health, or unaddressed human needs, such as addiction, poverty, and homelessness.
Slay explained that her work implementing a similar type of program in Ann Arbor means, “we take your case and instead of saddling you with a criminal conviction, we provide services and programs, and if you take advantage of those, we will dismiss your case . . . we work through restorative principles to figure out a good resolution to your case . . .
. . . which sometimes can be victim-offender conferencing, [or] community service, [or] meeting with your service provider locally . . .,” Slay said.
The goal is to address the root cause that may have led an individual to be in the criminal justice system in the first place.
Slay is eager to use her experience with this program if elected, “I’ve developed this great blueprint, and I’m ready to bring it county-wide so that [the entire county] can start using these principles as well,” Slay said.
Combining criminal justice and social justice to achieve long-term reform
In order to implement long-lasting reform though, Slay stressed the importance of recognizing that the county’s prosecutor’s office can’t do it all alone. Additional funding and resources will be necessary for some new programs and initiatives to be launched.
“We actually have to effectuate social justice reform [and criminal justice reform] at the same time,” Slay said. And not only that, but the power of community will be a crucial part of implementing reform for Slay.
If elected, Slay said one of her first goals is, “getting the community together and hearing how we can all work together. What services do we all have . . . what I’m asking for is commitment. I’m asking commitment from all our social service agencies, from places of worship, from our student population. I want to help effectuate the social change that we are supporting in criminal justice change.”
Slay said that if elected, she looks forward to helping lead legislative reform in the state and county to coincide with her work in the prosecutor’s office, in an effort to bring systemic change to the Washtenaw County criminal justice system.
Slay also has a plan to implement change to the prosecutor’s office immediately, utilizing tools available to the county prosecutor without legislative involvement. Getting rid of old policies and procedures that “don’t work towards rehabilitation or public safety” is one such way Slay plans to enact change.
The prosecutor’s office isn’t a stepping stone to Slay, she says she wants to make changes right here at home
“I’m not going anywhere. I know that seems kind of silly to me, [but] I built my home, my life - my husband and I are essentially lifelong county residents, so we have always been entrusted to care for the community.”
“I care about people, I care about this community, I care about breaking down the walls that we have in our community . . . I’ve been working hard at it for 15 years and I won’t be stopping,” Slay said.
Slay’s campaign has an extensive list of endorsements from local leaders, including newly appointed Ypsilanti Mayor Lois Richardson, Sheriff Jerry Clayton, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, and the mayors of Saline and Chelsea. The primary election takes place on Aug. 4, but some Michigan residents have already begun receiving their absentee ballots.
There are no Republican candidates on the ballot for Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney, so the winner of the Democratic primary on Aug. 4, will replace longtime incumbent Brian Mackie, who was first elected as prosecutor in 1992.