The vast majority of the nation's criminal cases are misdemeanors. Yet instead of promoting public safety, a mounting body of evidence suggests that traditional misdemeanor prosecution makes people more likely to be re-arrested in the future.
Our comprehensive analysis of misdemeanor cases arraigned in New York City in 2019 and 2020 shows the system rarely results in misdemeanor convictions. However, the system liberally inflicts "process is punishment" effects as people experience arrest, detention, and daylong waits for brief court appearances.
We also found stark racial disparities in who is prosecuted, with disparities greatest among charges stemming from interactions with police officers and involving significant officer discretion.
In a separate report, we offer a series of statewide legislative recommendations for reforming misdemeanor justice that follow directly from our findings, including specific charges to consider removing from the criminal system and banning the use of jail in all but a select number of misdemeanors.