Arrest Volume, System Capacity and Prison Sentences: Examining the Impact of Arrests for Quality of Life Offenses in New York City on Felong Arrest Dispositions

Sharon Lansing, NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services

This paper argues that decision making in the criminal justice system following arrest and through sentencing is shaped largely by the dynamics of system behavior, more so than law, policy or individual discretion. In doing so it contends that it is the manner in which dynamic system forces influence the allocation of a system's case processing capacity between the upper and lower court that largely determines the number of cases in which prison sentences are imposed. Furthermore, it contends that the allocation of this capacity can be affected by policing strategies that produced substantial and protracted increases in the volume of arrests. Specifically, it examines how changes in the volume of felony and misdemeanor arrests, particularly the enormous growth in misdemeanor "quality of life" crimes, have affected the likelihood of imprisonment in New York City's criminal justice system.

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Updated 05/20/2006