NYC Blacks, Hispanics Hit Hardest by Misdemeanor Arrests: Study

In its seventh report, John Jay College’s Misdemeanor Justice Project found that, even though arrests for pot possession and other drug-related offenses are down, individuals of color are almost five times more likely to be arrested for drug charges than whites in New York City.

In New York City, marijuana and other drug-related arrests significantly decreased in 2016, but young African-American men and Hispanics are still arrested at much higher rates than their white counterparts, according to a report by the Misdemeanor Justice Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Examining data from the New York City Police Department from 1993 to 2016, including all misdemeanor offenses for 16 to 65 year olds, researchers found that blacks are almost five times more likely to be arrested for minor drug charges such as possession of marijuana than whites.

Although the City has taken a proactive approach to reducing jail sentences, with plans to close Rikers Island, the second largest prison complex in the country, questions remain about the impact the new approaches will have on men and women of color.


Tables courtesy of John Jay Misdemeanor  Justice Project.

Young men of color experienced the most dramatic increases and decreases for misdemeanor crimes such as marijuana charges, theft of service charges, trespassing charges, resisting arrest charges, and weapons charges, the study found.


Males are also nine times more likely to be arrested than females for marijuana charges.

Currently, New York City has the lowest crime rates and jail admission rates in decades, researchers stated.

While marijuana and other drug arrests have decreased in recent years, the number of arrests for charges more likely to be ‘complaint driven’, such as person and victim related property charges, have increased among both black and white populations.

Since 1993, there has been a 53 percent increase in “complaint-driven” charges for whites and a 72 percent increase for blacks.

The study called the increase “striking” and suggested that, possibly, there is a greater willingness by community members to call the police.

Also noteworthy: Prostitution charges among men have significantly increased.

In 1993, women were 80 percent more likely to be arrested for prostitution than men, but in 2016, the numbers were about equal.

The study did not give an explanation for the dramatic increase of prostitution arrests among men.

Overall, New York is making strides to reduce criminal sentences for non-felony offenses, such as implementing the Criminal Justice Reform Act in July 2017, which creates the presumption that some behaviors such as public drinking, public urination, littering and noise and park violations will result in a civil rather than criminal summons.

Other avenues for reducing jail and prison time include speeding up case processing, facilitating easier bail payments, the creation of a new pretrial risk assessment instrument, and the diversion of people with mental illness, the study said.

The Misdemeanor Justice Project is headed by Preeti Chauhan, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Megan Hadley is a staff writer for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.