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Studies & Stats 10 Minute Read

10 Arresting Stats About Pretrial

Wendy Shang
Words by
Wendy Shang
Published on
March 12, 2024

As PJI’s resident writer/researcher, I’m often asked to track down studies and statistics. Some of those numbers really stick with me—and over the coming weeks, I'll be sharing the most striking. I’m starting with stats related to arrest, which is where the tracking of pretrial cases typically begins, though equitable pretrial solutions need to start way before that point.

We live in the United States of Arrest-ica. Someone is arrested every three seconds, usually for a low-level offense. That adds up to over 10 million arrests that need to be processed.

Arrest is a traumatizing experience. Arrest involves a physical search and restriction of a person’s body, fear, and powerlessness. Data from a longitudinal study of youth found that arrest itself accounted for half of the poor mental health and the negative consequences associated with incarceration.

We chronically arrest people for problems not solved by jail. More than 1 in 4 people who are arrested each year are arrested multiple times, according to the Prison Policy Institute. These are usually people of color and people who are impoverished, who have issues related to mental illness and substance use.

So many arrests, so much waste. In New York City, 800 people identified as having the most arrests accounted for 18,713 jail admissions and $129 million in custody and health costs over five years.

Police arrest Black people more often. In general, Black people are twice as likely to be arrested as white people. But it gets worse. A large-scale study of youth found that Black youth are arrested seven times more frequently than their white counterparts and “[n]either contextual or behavioral differences account for the arrest disparity.”

Police are much more likely to use force while arresting a Black person. After looking at use of force data from twelve police departments, the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) found that police were more likely to use force against Black people (82 incidents per 1,000 arrests) vs. white people (62 incidents per 1,000 arrests). Use of hands and body was the most common type of use of force, though CPE raised concerns that Taser use is sharply on the rise.

More than before, arrests usually result in jail. According to Vera, in 1991, when crime rates and arrest volume rates were higher, 70 out of 100 arrests resulted in jail admission. Twenty-five years later, as of 2016, an astonishing 99 out of 100 arrests that result in jail admission.

People who are arrested might eventually have their charges dropped. University of Baltimore law professor Colin Starger found that in three Maryland jurisdictions, 7% of people who were detained pretrial had all their charges dropped. (On average, those people spent 46 days in jail.) In New York City, half of people arrested for misdemeanors have their charges dropped.

It’s clear that as a country, we arrest too many people for too many behaviors that have nothing to do with safety. How can we do better? Check out our publication, What If: 10 Questions for Sparking Local Pretrial Change for some ideas.  If you have a question about arrest—or anything else related to pretrial justice—send us a question through the Help Desk. We’d love to support your work.