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Study shows significant racial disparity in misdemeanor arrests

Regular readers of our Sioux Falls Criminal Defense Blog might recall a post we published in late July about a study that found “extreme racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests.” The ACLU report stated that “Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for possession.”

Researchers at the Data Collaborative for Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found a similar racial disparity in their recently released study of misdemeanor arrests.

As high as7 to 1

The researchers say that though misdemeanor arrests have declined in the seven jurisdictions they’ve studied over the past decade, the ratio of Black people arrested to White people arrested ranges from “approximately three to seven arrests of Black people for one arrest of a white person.”

The seven jurisdictions studied were Louisville, Ky., Los Angeles, Ca., New York City, Prince George’s County, Md., Seattle, Wa., St. Louis, Mo. and Durham, NC.

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.”

South Dakota misdemeanors

Examples of misdemeanors in South Dakota include drunk driving, assault, marijuana possession, disorderly conduct and petty theft.

The study also found a general decline in drug-related misdemeanor arrests and an increase in charges such as assault, harassment and stalking.

The report’s authors noted that misdemeanors represent an estimated 75 percent of all criminal cases across the U.S. each year, and that conviction can result in “significant jail time and a permanent criminal record.”

More arrest rate data

Though two of the seven jurisdictions did not have Latinx arrest data, the remaining jurisdictions reported that the Latinx misdemeanor arrest rate was second highest.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study also found that the age groups most commonly arrested on misdemeanor charges were 18-20 and 21-24.

While males were arrested more often than females, both genders had decreases in arrest rates: 60 percent for females and 79 percent for males.

The study’s authors noted that arrest rates for males and females varied across the seven jurisdictions. For instance, in St. Louis, about six times as many males were arrested than females, while in Seattle, the male-to-female arrest ratio was about 2.5 to 1.

Looking ahead

While some people assume that misdemeanor charges are minor matters that don’t need to be taken seriously, the reality is that convictions can result not only in significant time behind bars, but a criminal record that severely limits job and career opportunities.

The authors acknowledged as much when they urged more study to help the public and lawmakers “weigh perceived public safety benefits of misdemeanor arrests against the potential harms that criminal justice involvement inflicts on individuals and their communities.”