Misdemeanor Enforcement Trends Across Seven U.S. Jurisdictions

This paper, which is a product of DCJ’s Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice (“the Research Network”), examines long-term trends in lower-level enforcement across seven U.S. jurisdictions:  Durham, NC; Los Angeles, CA; Louisville, KY;  New York City, NY; Prince George’s County; MD; Seattle, WA; and St. Louis, MO. It draws both on reports that were produced through partnerships between local researchers and criminal justice agency partners as well as updated data the Research Network has published through an interactive online dashboard. The paper analyzed cross-jurisdictional trends in enforcement, including misdemeanor arrest rates broadly, by demographics (race/age/sex), and by charge.

Key Findings:

  • Overall: Misdemeanor arrest rates in all Research Network jurisdictions decreased in recent years. These declines often followed a period of significant increases in misdemeanor enforcement.
  • Racial disparities: Black people were arrested at the highest rates of any racial/ethnic group for all jurisdictions across the entire study period. Racial disparities between Black people and White people existed in all jurisdictions, and these disparities persisted despite the recent overall declines in arrest rates.
    • However, the magnitude of the disparities varied by jurisdiction and over time – ranging from approximately three to seven arrests of Black people for every arrest of a White person.
  • Misdemeanor arrests by charge: Within the context of fluctuating misdemeanor arrests, the composition of misdemeanor charges changed over time across most sites. Cross-jurisdiction trends indicate a move away from more discretionary, drug-related charges and an increase in the share of charges where there is an identifiable complainant or victim (“person-related” offenses)