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ANN ARBOR, MI – The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office and Washtenaw County My Brother’s Keeper (WMBK) today announced a new partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice geared towards reducing justice-involvement for young men of color in Washtenaw County.
As part of its Reshaping Prosecution Program’s Motion for Justice initiative, Vera will provide WMBK with financial support to expand its successful Formula 734 program to young people who are at risk of involvement in the criminal legal system. Formula 734 is a program which engages young people to co-create hip-hop music, under the guidance of experienced mentors from WMBK.
My Brother’s Keeper is an initiative created by the Obama Administration that fosters connection between adults and young people of color. WMBK focuses on school readiness and success, preparation for college and career, and giving second chances to youth who have been justice-involved.
Under the program announced Tuesday, certain young people who are not deemed to pose a public-safety risk will be given the opportunity to participate in WMBK’s Formula 734 program as an alternative to having criminal charges brought by the Prosecutor’s Office. As a condition for participation in the program, participants will be expected not to engage in criminal activity.
Young people will then have the opportunity to obtain marketable skills related to the music industry—including, potentially, journalism, event-promotion, videography, and photography skills—while working to co-create hip-hop music in partnership with experienced older musicians. The music will be based on icebreakers and discussion prompts, grounded in restorative practices, that start each studio session.
Formula 734 is a WMBK initiative that released its first album last year. The partnership announced Tuesday will allow the program to expand, and include young people who are facing potential justice-involvement.
“Formula 734 was born out of my love for hip-hop and my desire to share this artform with Washtenaw County’s young (and young at heart) men of color,” said Jamall Bufford, Project Specialist for WMBK. “The work I’ve done leading up to Formula 734 revealed the many ways that hip-hop can be powerful—not only as fun artform, but also as a business industry and a therapeutic coping mechanism. My WMBK colleagues, Mike Henry and Rod Wallace, shared a similar vision.”
“When the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office approached me with the idea of using Formula 734 as a diversion and deflection program to keep young Black and Brown people out of the criminal justice system, I jumped at the opportunity to partner with them,” Bufford concluded. “With the support from the Vera Institute of Justice, we’re excited to get this journey underway.”
Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney Eli Savit echoed Bufford’s sentiments.
“The best thing we can do for young people is provide them with authentic mentorship opportunities, workforce-development, and an opportunity to channel their passions into something positive,” Savit said. “Formula 734 provides all of those opportunities. We’re thrilled to partner with WMBK and Vera on this innovative, community-grounded program.”
As part of the Motion For Justice Program, the Vera Institute will also provide the prosecutor’s office with data analysis, staff training, community engagement support, and policy expertise to expand its understanding of the criminal legal system’s history of racial injustice and guide them toward a more equitable future.
“As a former prosecutor, I know the unique and immense power that prosecutors wield. They can either perpetuate the injustices of the criminal legal system or work to rectify them,” said Jami Hodge, director of the Reshaping Prosecution initiative at Vera. “We are far past time for prosecutors to operate through a racial equity lens and in partnership with the community. I am thrilled to partner with the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office and WMBK to tackle the deep-rooted injustices that continue to plague our communities.”
Washtenaw County was one of nine new Vera partners announced this week. Other new partners include Westchester County (NY) District Attorney Miriam Rocah and the Youth Shelter Program of Westchester; Fairfax County (VA) Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephen Descano and OAR in Virginia; Athens-Clarke County (GA) District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez and People Living in Recovery; Chatham County (GA) District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones and Savannah Feed the Hungry; Kauai (HI) Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar and Hale Opio Kaua’i; City of St. Louis (MO) Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and Freedom Community Center; Marion County (IN) Prosecutor Ryan Mears and Horizon House in Indiana; and Franklin County (PA) District Attorney Matt Fogel in Pennsylvania.
Current Vera partners include Ingham County (MI) Prosecuting Attorney Carol Siemon, Suffolk County (MA) District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Ramsey County (MN) Attorney John Choi in Minnesota, and Commonwealth's Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church (VA) Parisa Dehghani-Tafti