Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Gatekeepers: The role of police in ending mass incarceration
Contributors: Neusteter, S. Rebecca
Subramanian, Ram
Trone, Jennifer
Khogali, Mowia
Reed, Cindy
Keywords: Criminal justice, Administration of—Political aspects—United States
Imprisonment—Political aspects—United States
Police-community relations
Issue Date: Aug-2019
Publisher: Vera Institute of Justice
Place of Publication: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Description: For every 100 arrests police officers made nationwide in 2016, there were 99 jail admissions. Twenty-five years ago, when crime rates and arrest volume overall were higher, the ratio of arrests to jail admissions was much lower—there were 70 jail admissions for every 100 arrests. While not all jail admissions stem from arrests—people suspected of violations of probation or parole can end up in jail too, for example—the growth in admissions as crime and arrest rates have fallen to lows not experienced since 1970 and 1980, respectively, strongly suggests that between then and now, police enforcement has become an expressway to jail. Police officers, as gatekeepers of the criminal justice system, hold almost exclusive authority—by way of citations, arrests, and even physical force—to enforce and regulate the law. And they have increasingly been asked to do this in situations that involve societal problems that would be better resolved in the community—problems like homelessness, mental illness, and substance use. Mass enforcement of relatively minor law violations suggests that policing practices currently tend toward punitive approaches—that is, those that prioritize arrest and frequently lead to time behind bars—in ways that are often not necessary to achieve public safety. What is clear is that far from being synonymous with rote enforcement of laws, policing actually operates in a gray area: it depends on an officer’s judgment, in which the law is just one variable and enforcement only one of many possible responses. Police have wide discretion to make choices other than arrest: they can, for example, choose to cite and release, issue a warning, or do nothing. There is always a risk that officers can misuse or abuse such discretion. But police departments can encourage officers to use their discretion to rein in punitive enforcement and to employ what are often safer and more effective responses. As this report discusses, a number of mostly small-scale experiments in alternatives-to-arrest programs provide some evidence of what police can choose to do, along with some cautionary lessons for their future replication. They are just the beginning of reimagining the gatekeeper role for more effective and equitable public safety outcomes.
Related resource:
Appears in Collections:Monographic reports and papers (Publicly Accessible)

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
gatekeepers-police-and-mass-incarceration.pdf689.65 kBAdobe PDFView/Download

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.