The enormous misdemeanor system is an increasingly important and fertile area of criminal justice reform. With over 10 million cases filed each year, vastly outnumbering felonies, the petty-offense process is how most Americans experience the criminal justice system. Characterized largely by speed, informality, and a lack of regulation and transparency, the petty-offense process generates millions of criminal convictions as well as burdensome punishments that affect employment, housing, education, and immigration. This chapter explains the major policy issues raised by the misdemeanor system, including its assembly-line quality, high rates of wrongful conviction, its racial skew, and how it quietly impoverishes working people and the poor. Key targets of reform include arrest, bail, prosecutorial policies, the right to counsel, diversion, decriminalization, debtor’s prison, criminal records, and collateral consequences.
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