Criminal Convictions in New York State, 1980-2021

From 1980 to 2021, just over 6.6 million New York criminal cases impacting nearly 2.2 million people ended in a conviction.

The purpose of this study is to examine criminal convictions and attendant racial disparities in New York State from 1980 to 2021. This research brief expands on an earlier Data Collaborative for Justice study: Criminal Conviction Records in New York City (1980-2019).

Accompanying this report is a set of maps (available here) indicating, for each county in the recent pre-COVID year of 2019, overall conviction numbers, conviction rates per 1,000 people in the population, and racial disparities in conviction rates.

Key Findings:

Total Convictions

  • Changes in Annual Conviction Totals From 1980 to 2021: In 1980, there were just over 71,000 statewide convictions. After rising sharply in the 1980s, and fluctuating from about 170,000 to 200,000 per year from 1990 to 2010, annual convictions dropped to 109,000 in 2019, and continued to decline significantly in 2020 and 2021.
  • Geography: New York City accounted for 53% of the State’s convictions in 1980, declining to 33% in 2019, while 18% involved the suburban counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, and Rockland, and 49% involved the upstate region.
  • Demographics: From 1980 to 2021, 82% of convictions involved men. From 1985 to 2021, 42% of convictions involved Black people (though they made up 15% of the State’s population in 2019), 20% involved Hispanic people, and 36% involved white people.

People with Convictions

  • Overall: The 6.6 million total statewide convictions represented just under 2.2 million people. A misdemeanor conviction was the most serious on the record for three quarters of the cases.
  • Racial Disparities: From 1980 to 2021, about 1.1 million white, 640,000 Black, 380,000 Hispanic, and 41,000 Asian New Yorkers accumulated a conviction. In 2019, the conviction rate per 100,000 people was 3.1 times higher for Black than white people statewide. New York City saw the starkest racial disparities of any region, with a conviction rate 5.7 times higher for Black than white people.
  • Recency of Convictions: The most recent conviction was more than 20 years ago for 47% of people, 11 to 20 years ago for 26%, and within the past ten years for 27%.
  • People Newly Accumulating a Conviction Record: In the 2019 pre-pandemic year, 107,481 people were convicted of a crime, of which 30,458 (28%) experienced their first conviction (and, hence, were newly exposed to resulting lifetime repercussions).

In June 2023, following the simultaneous release of overlapping reports documenting the magnitude and racially inequitable impacts of criminal convictions in New York, the Data Collaborative for Justice and NYC Comptroller released a Fact Sheet summarizing their findings, alongside economic impacts estimated by the Brennan Center for Justice.