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Ahead of retirement, Ingham County's Prosecutor reflects on her tenure, work still needed to be done

Carol Siemon headshot
pa.ingham.org

Ingham County’s Prosecuting Attorney Carol Siemon is retiring at the end of the year.

She was elected as prosecutor in 2016 and then reelected in 2020.

Carol Siemon shared her reflections on her tenure with WKAR's Sophia Saliby.

Interview Highlights

On why she's retiring now

I've been looking for quite some time at retiring before the end of my term, and it's a combination of age, health, parents, you know, just a lot of stuff going on in my own life. And also feeling that the office was in a place where it was ready to move on, that it had been stabilized, that we have a really great group of people and then it was time to leave.

On the ongoing work her office is doing to address racial inequities

There are a lot of places to go, regarding racial inequities because, really, what we've mostly been able to do is identify where they are. And sometimes, there's a quick and easy solution, like, oh, be trained or have some kind of process that compensates. Other times, we don't know what the reasons are. So you know, there's gonna be deeper diving. So, we're still waiting for the final Vera Institute of Justice report, which is the narrative that discusses the findings they've made over the last couple of years. So, there'll be places to look at, you know, and trying, perhaps another policy change or two, and then evaluating what the actual impact of that is.

On her response to people who say she's not been tough enough on crime

I guess, I'd much rather be remembered for having an open heart that's willing to accept that people can grow and change than to have a heart that is just focused totally on locking people up and throwing away the key. So, whether it's juveniles or younger adults or even people who've committed heinous crimes, the question is, you're going to be locked up, probably, you're going to be held accountable, but at some point, someone's gonna have to have a chance to review your case and say, "Who are you now?" And that to me is really important.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: Ingham County’s Prosecuting Attorney Carol Siemon is retiring at the end of the year.

She was elected as prosecutor in 2016 and then reelected in 2020.

Carol Siemon joins me now to reflect on her tenure. Thank you for being here.

Carol Siemon: Thank you, Sophia.

Saliby: Why was now the right time to retire instead of at the end of your term in 2024?

The office was in a place where it was ready to move on, that it had been stabilized, that we have a really great group of people and that it was time to leave.

Siemon: Well, I've been looking for quite some time at retiring before the end of my term, and it's a combination of age, health, parents, you know, just a lot of stuff going on in my own life.

And also feeling that the office was in a place where it was ready to move on, that it had been stabilized, that we have a really great group of people, and that it was a time to leave.

Saliby: In your resignation letter, you cite you and your office's response to ongoing trends related to violence against women, the racial justice reckoning in 2020 and then the COVID-19 pandemic as work you're proud of.

Can you speak briefly about why those stood out to you looking back?

Siemon: Well, first of all, we knew that during the pandemic and even leading up to it, the places where society had fractures already, the divides were deepening, whether it was political philosophy, whether it was inequities in, you know, health care, the criminal legal system. So, those became very important parts.

We knew that during the pandemic, that domestic violence and child abuse were going up. Certainly, gun violence was going up across the nation. So, those were big things.

Other things that people may not have really thought about, like the drag racing along our roads and highways and pedestrian deaths and the increase in fatal crashes. These are all things that came out of the pandemic and are still, like, hanging over us.

So, those are some of those things that I think are carrying on, and we need to, while they've always been a focus, we need to go back and say, "What do they look like in light of what we now know and how things have changed over the last few years?"

Saliby: I think a big focus of your time as prosecuting attorney in the past few years has been working towards eliminating racial inequities in the justice system. Where are there still places to grow within your office and the county?

There are a lot of places to grow, regarding racial inequities because, really, what we've mostly been able to do is identify where they are.

Siemon: Well, there are a lot of places to grow, regarding racial inequities because, really, what we've mostly been able to do is identify where they are. And sometimes, there's a quick and easy solution, like, oh, be trained or have some kind of process that compensates.

Other times, we don't know what the reasons are. So you know, there's gonna be deeper diving. So, we're still waiting for the final Vera Institute of Justice report, which is the narrative that discusses the findings they've made over the last couple of years. So, there'll be places to look at, you know, and trying, perhaps another policy change or two, and then evaluating what the actual impact of that is.

Because that's always a fundamental part, too. You can't just say, "We're gonna do something different." You have to say, "Well, did it work?" And if it doesn't try something else. It's an ongoing issue for us, but I think we're ahead of the curve from where a lot offices are.

Saliby: Some of your policies have received pushback from others in the justice system, including judges and law enforcement officials. What do you say to those who think you've not been tough enough on crime during your tenure?

Siemon: Well, you know, we've tried the "tough on crime" for decades and look what that led to: the United States having the most incarcerated people in the whole world.We have about 20-25% of the world's incarcerated people with less than 5% of the world's population.

And during the time I was an assistant from the 1980s and 1990s, penalties just kept getting harsher and harsher. So, if you look at average sentences, even 30 years ago, 40 years ago, they're much longer now. I guess, I'd much rather be remembered for having an open heart that's willing to accept that people can grow and change than to have a heart that is just focused totally on locking people up and throwing away the key.

I'd much rather be remembered for having an open heart that's willing to accept that people can grow and change than to have a heart that is just focused totally on locking people up and throwing away the key.

So, whether it's juveniles or younger adults or even people who've committed heinous crimes, the question is, you're going to be locked up, probably, you're going to be held accountable, but at some point, someone's gonna have to have a chance to review your case and say, "Who are you now?" And that to me is really important.

And so, that is kind of my overarching philosophy, and I think I'm on the right side of history. So, I hope I am. That's where we're leading, and that's more fair and just society.

And generally, change is very hard for people, so I'm not at all surprised, and the pushback that I'm receiving locally is not at all unique across the nation.

Saliby: Someone will be appointed to serve out the rest of your term. What initiatives do you hope your successor will continue?

I've been very proud that I feel I've tried to help people grow into the positions where they can be their strongest and best and to continue looking at what we can do to increase public safety and victims' safety but also the rights of everyone else.

Siemon: Well, whomever he or she is, I hope that they will take the pieces that we started to put in play.

They're gonna be moved around a little bit differently because whomever it is will have a different perspective than I do on things. But that we use the data that we've been collecting to make some decisions, that we continue to support our coworkers, which I've been very proud that I feel I've tried to help people grow into the positions where they can be their strongest and best, and to continue looking at what we can do to increase public safety and victims' safety but also the rights of everyone else.

Saliby: Carol Siemon is Ingham County's Prosecutor. She will retire at the end of the year. Thank you for joining me.

Siemon: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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