If the justice system’s response to misdemeanor defendants was refashioned to replace jail and other traditional sanctions with services and treatment, what should those interventions look like? Given the existing literature's focus on more serious felony populations, little is known about the drivers of misdemeanor offending, even while low-level charges make up the overwhelming majority of criminal cases in court systems across the country.
By contrast, this in-depth profile of misdemeanor defendants in New York City lays the groundwork for developing more effective and proportionate resolutions to such cases, with a focus on reducing recidivism. Defendants in this sample posed little risk to public safety, but were distinguished by high rates of re-arrest—four in 10 were re-arrested over a six month period—with unmet needs for treatment and services fueling the revolving door of low-level justice-involvement.
The study identified significant needs in the areas of housing, substance use, employment, trauma, and mental health, with notable differences in the profiles of men and women, underscoring the need for gender-responsive programming in this population.