Election 2020: Candidates for Ingham County Prosecutor

Lansing State Journal

Across Greater Lansing, voters have begun to cast ballots for the 2020 state primary election – absentee ballots are being sent out, with in-person voting to follow on Tuesday, Aug. 4. Winners of the primary advance to the 2020 general election on Nov. 3.

LSJ asked area candidates running for office to share their backgrounds, and answer a few questions on major topics to aid voters in their decision. Read excerpts from their answers below.

Carol Siemon | Democrat (incumbent)

Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon

Siemon was born and raised in Lansing, graduated from Eastern High School and Michigan State University (James Madison College), and, except for three years in the Boston area for law school (1978-1981), has lived in Ingham County her entire life.

Siemon served 11 years as an assistant Ingham County prosecutor (1984 - 1995), including four years as Chief of the Juvenile Division. She also served as the first Child Abuse Training Coordinator for the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.  As an analyst with the Legislative Services Bureau, Siemon worked with legislators to draft and enact the state’s laws.

Siemon's focus in almost 39 years as an attorney has been to explore options to protect the community, reduce trauma and change systems to provide needed treatment and programs to address the underlying issues leading to criminal behavior.​

Siemon was elected Ingham County Prosecutor in 2016.

George Platsis | Republican

No response.

Candidate answers on major topics

Have you met with members of diverse populations in the communities you are seeking to serve/continue serving? If yes, briefly share what you learned. If not, why not?

Siemon: Yes, I have met frequently with individuals and organizations focused on the unique needs of various populations in our community. I am actively involved with Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (a 5-year Kellogg Foundation funded effort), Advocates for Police and Community Trust (ALPACT), Capital Area Sexual Assault Response Team (CASART), and many others. I gather input and insights to craft policy and practice changes for my office. Learning from the community is an essential part of my function.

Platsis: No response.

What steps do/will you take as prosecutor to address racial inequity in decisions to prosecute and the level of charges issued? Please include your timetable for action.

Siemon: Steps since I took office in 2017 include modifying policies that often most impact the Black and brown communities, such as how we consider “habitual offender” supplemental charges and immigration collateral consequences policies. I implemented many new trainings for assistant prosecutors including sessions about implicit bias, working with persons with disabilities, what a trauma-centered approach looks like, LGBTQ issues and immigration considerations. Due to my commitment, we have been selected by the Vera Institute of Justice as one of three jurisdictions nationally for their “Reshaping Prosecution” 18- month data project. We were just also selected to do a deeper dive on race equity issues as one of their three partner offices for their new “Motion in Justice” project which will dovetail with our current project.

Platsis: No response.

Do you support changes to the standard for reviewing officers’ actions in cases involving use of force or lethal force? Please elaborate.

Siemon: I support a heightened level of warrant review for certain police use of force issues, specifically Resisting and Obstructing a Police Officer. The burden of proof remains the same, but recognizing that low-level police contacts can result in problematic altercations, we will develop practices to ensure that we are considering all available evidence before issuing charges. I also support having police agencies refer use of force investigations, including officer-involved shootings, to outside entities for investigation. I support a centralized entity, such as the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES), to investigate, maintain statewide records and have the authority to make licensing.

Platsis: No response.

What public data will you provide to allow citizens to judge the equity of the work done in the prosecutor’s office?

Siemon: We currently share what limited data we are able to extract from our systems, including numbers of cases reviewed and issued, cases referred to Diversion, etc. We have limited data collection abilities, as do most prosecutors, since our case management system is designed to track information on individual cases, not aggregate data. One of our APAs designed a very comprehensive data excel spreadsheet with multiple defendant and victim demographics, which is a reason we were selected to partner with the Vera Institute. Unfortunately, we have not had staff to input the data and the Covid-19 crisis terminated our intern who was assisting this process. Working with Vera, we will collect, develop, share, and analyze data and develop policies from that data. Vera will also use data to assist us to determine the effectiveness of new policies and practices.

Platsis: No response.

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Do you believe the prosecutor has a responsibility to work with police agencies to address patterns of overcharging or excessive force in communities of color? If yes, explain what you will do. If not, why not.

Siemon: Yes, we have worked together and will continue to do so. I meet with the sheriff and police chiefs monthly and we discuss a variety of issues, including charging issues and implementation of policy changes. I am also gathering information from other prosecutors who have implemented a "do not issue warrants" list or other policy changes for lower level offenses. Working with the Vera Institute of Justice, I plan to identify which types of charges might be most problematic for our county and develop policies and practices to address those charges. While the police agencies or public may initially object to changes in our charging practices, it is important to not utilize the legal process to continue unfair prosecutions, including ones linked to racial disparities in arrest rates and I commit to ongoing efforts to remediate this.

Platsis: No response.

Some prosecutors believe people who have been sentenced to life without parole can, and have been rehabilitated. What is your position on sentences of life without parole? Do you support the movement among some prosecutors to review prior life without parole sentences for possible commutation? If not, why?

Siemon: I am a proponent of Michigan and the US joining the rest of the world with more humane criminal justice practices. With less than 5% of the world’s population, the US incarcerates 25% of the world’s incarcerated persons. The US incarcerates an astounding 40% of those incarcerated in prison for life with no review or opportunity for parole. While I do not believe that every person should ultimately be paroled, I emphatically support the “second chance review” of each incarcerated individual. This means I support sentences and processes that ensure that an incarcerated person will have the parole board look at who they have become at some point in the future. Not everyone will or should be paroled, but it is archaic, in my opinion, to not provide a meaningful review to see if even the most heinous offender may in the future be rehabilitated.

Platsis: No response.

The above information was compiled from questionnaires emailed to each candidate. If you have questions about our process, email opinions@lsj.com. To support work like this, consider subscribing. For more information, visit LSJ.com/subscribe.