Law enforcement officers averaged more than 12.5 million arrests each year from 2008 to 2014. And, it is at arrest that the criminal justice system starts to impose consequences on individuals regardless of guilt or innocence. Those consequences can last a lifetime even for those who are never charged with a crime, affecting their ability to obtain housing, loans or employment.
For the poor and for those with tenuous employment, including many Latinos, an arrest alone can produce greater economic insecurity.
For noncitizens, an arrest can initiate a process leading to deportation.
For the many arrested for minor crimes, individuals who pose no threat to public safety, an arrest can lead to an unnecessary and damaging jail stay.
For the criminal justice system in many jurisdictions, the arrest of low-level offenders can produce substantial costs to taxpayers without offering any remedy to the circumstances that led to the arrest in the first place. And in some cases of addiction, mental illness and housing insecurity, arrest can become a revolving door as police struggle with limited tools to deal with social problems largely unrelated to public safety.
Alternatives to Arrest
Cities, counties and states across the country are adopting policies designed to reduce unnecessary arrests. In these initiatives, individuals, who are not suspected in a serious crime and who pose no danger to the community, are steered away from criminal charges and jail. Instead, their offenses are handled by measures that are less costly to both taxpayers and the accused. Many of these remedies are designed to prevent repetition of the offense instead of merely exacting punishment. And often these new policies lessen the chance that people will end up in jail simply because they are poor. Finally, these policies can also lessen the chance that a noncitizen will face permanent immigration consequences for a minor offense.
Alternatives to arrest come in many forms, but generally they fall into three categories: