It’s no secret that courts across the country are overwhelmed, with increasing backlogs and decreasing budgets. As a result, cities are experimenting with fewer minor crime arrests. In Seattle, the police have discretion over whether to arrest non-violent minor offenders, or divert them into social-service programs rather than the criminal courts. Authorities in New York and Philadelphia have backed off arresting individuals for minor pot possession. In Milwaukee, police have limited searches in traffic stops that in the past produced arrests.
Law enforcement has also started to recognize that the collateral consequences of a conviction—which can include difficulty in getting a job, scholarship or loan years later—are often far more serious than the offense itself. Steven Jansen, vice president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, remarked, “in the end, we have to ask, ‘Is this fair?’” This is an attitude that is being slowly adopted for both its practical, and ethical upsides.