Two distinct trends emerged from a recent study of misdemeanor arrests: 1.) there has been a steep decline in misdemeanor arrests in recent years and 2.) despite the decline, young Black men are those who are most likely to be arrested.
The study was conducted by New York’s Data Collaborative for Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Researchers gathered and analyzed data from seven jurisdictions over the past two decades: New York City, Durham, NC, Prince George’s County, Md., Los Angeles, Ca., Louisville, Ky., Seattle, Wa. and St. Louis, Mo.
Examples of Empire State misdemeanors including a first drunk driving charge, possession of a controlled substance, simple assault and theft of under $1,000.
The study’s authors stated that the racial disparity in misdemeanor arrests ranged from “approximately three to seven arrests of Black people for one arrest of a white person.”
The report found that “Black people were arrested at the highest rates of any racial/ethnic group for all jurisdictions across the entire study period.”
While peak misdemeanor arrest rates varied from 2002 to 2012, all seven jurisdictions experienced significant decreases in those rates afterwards.
Two of the seven jurisdictions didn’t have Latinx arrest data, but in the remaining five, the Latinx arrest rate was second highest.
Age and gender
Researchers also found people in the 18-20 and 21-24 age groups were more likely than other age groups to be charged with misdemeanor crimes.
As for gender, males were arrested more often than females across all jurisdictions, though the 79 percent decline in male arrests was substantially larger than the 60 percent decline in female arrests.
Types of arrests
While the study by the Data Collaborative for Justice showed a general decline in arrests on drug-related charges, it found an increase in arrests on person-related charges such as assault, stalking and harassment.
Drug-related arrests decline in four jurisdictions, while person-related arrests stayed steady or rose in all jurisdictions but one (Prince George’s County).
The impact of misdemeanor charges
Far too often, people consider misdemeanor charges to be minor or trivial, and unworthy of serious legal defense. In reality, a conviction for a misdemeanor can mean significant jail time and a permanent criminal record that can shrink future job opportunities.
The authors of the recent study agree, saying that more research is needed so that the public and lawmakers can “weigh perceived public safety benefits of misdemeanor arrests against the potential harms that criminal justice involvement inflicts on individuals and their communities.”