Criminal Justice Reform and Health: Arrest and Prosecution for Minor Offenses

In many jurisdictions, offenders who commit relatively minor offenses are arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the criminal law. Yet subjecting these offenders to pretrial detention, post-conviction incarceration, and searchable arrest and conviction records, may have hidden social costs. This practice may undermine defendants’ already fragile social, economic, and health circumstances, aggravating defendants’ preexisting medical conditions, disrupting their health care regimes, increasing stress, reducing physical activity, reducing sleep, and decreasing nutritional quality. The disruptions imposed on defendants’ family members may likewise negatively impact the health status of defendants’ partners and children.

In March 2016, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the New York City Police Department implemented a plan to rely on criminal summonses rather than arrest and prosecution for offenders committing violations-level offenses like urinating in public, drinking in public, putting feet on subway seats, or riding between subway cars. This reform eliminated the possibility of pretrial detention, post-conviction incarceration, and searchable arrest and conviction records for those offenders subject to the new policy.

Working in partnership with local criminal justice agencies, the research team will match offenders’ court records to NYS Medicaid records to evaluate the impact of this reform on health outcomes.