FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 12, 2022
Dr. Jennifer Carreon
Director, Criminal Justice Project
New Report Reveals Tens of Thousands of Texans are Arrested Unnecessarily Despite Texas Law That Allows Citations
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Appleseed’s latest report, Cite and Release in Texas, reveals that more than 15,000 individuals were unnecessarily arrested and booked into local jails in 2019 for minor offenses in eight jurisdictions studied. These individuals could have instead been issued a citation and required to appear in court at a later date.
The report examined citation-eligible arrests made in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland, Houston, Lewisville, Lubbock, and Plano. The report authors examined the year 2019 because it best represented routine police practices before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under cite-and-release laws, certain misdemeanors are eligible for citation instead of arrest. Citation in lieu of an arrest does not change the offense or the potential outcome — it instead dictates whether someone will spend time in jail pretrial. State law grants broad authority to law enforcement to cite and release, and many local municipalities have further adopted cite and release as policy, yet it is often applied haphazardly.
“Whether or not someone is eligible for a citation over an arrest is largely dependent on where one lives,” said Dr. Jennifer Carreon, Director of the Criminal Justice Project at Texas Appleseed. “If your county does not have a policy on cite and release, it is unlikely that police are using this practice. Additionally, if you are stopped in a county in which you do not live and that county does not have a cite-and-release policy, you are also subject to arrest, putting commuters at a greater risk of system involvement.”
Major findings from the report include the following:
- Citation-eligible arrests are widespread and vary by jurisdiction.
- Roughly 15,000 people arrested in these areas in 2019 could likely have avoided jail — and the collateral consequences that accompany it — had the arresting officers instead issued a citation, with an order to appear in court at a later date.
- In Austin, only 4 percent of all arrests were potentially citation-eligible. Contrast that with Fort Worth, where 24 percent of all arrests were potentially citation-eligible. The numbers below show the percent of citation-eligible arrests out of total arrests in 2019 by police department in each of the cities studied:
- Austin: 4.0 percent
- Dallas: 22.0 percent
- Fort Worth: 24.0 percent
- Garland: 14.0 percent
- Houston: 6.1 percent
- Lewisville: 6.0 percent
- Lubbock: 15.6 percent
- Plano: 11.0 percent
- Black people are disproportionately arrested for citation-eligible charges.
- White people were the predominant racial group arrested for citation-eligible offenses (40.4 percent) across all eight jurisdictions in 2019. White people made up the largest number of citation-eligible arrests because they make up the majority of the population.
- A closer review of the data, however, revealed citation-eligible arrests to be disproportionately occurring among Black people across all jurisdictions. While Black people make up only about 21 percent of the population of the cities studied, they represented nearly 39 percent of all citation-eligible arrests.
- For the Latinx population, the share of citation-eligible arrests (16 percent) appeared to be roughly comparable to their representation in the overall population (20 percent). However, it was difficult to determine whether arrests were disproportionately occurring amongst the Latinx population, given the lack of available or reliable data. Houston, Fort Worth, and Lewisville did not provide data on an arrestee’s ethnicity.
- Arrests for Class C Misdemeanors constitute the majority of citation-eligible arrests, followed by low-level theft, possession of marijuana (POM), and driving while one’s license is invalid (DWLI).
- Racial disparities are even greater for possession of marijuana (POM) and driving while license invalid (DWLI) arrests.
- Outside of Class C Misdemeanors, citation-eligible charges predominantly leading to an arrest showed Black people as the largest group of arrestees for both POM and DWLIs. While White arrestees make up the largest group arrested for Class B Theft, Black people still make up 2 in 5 arrests for that offense.
- A wide variation exists among cite-and-release policies in place for the eight jurisdictions examined.
- It is not uncommon for police officers to continue to arrest on certain charges despite state law. Some departments have no cite-and-release policy, while others have cite-and-release policies around only specific charges (e.g., POMs or DWLIs).
“The lack of a clear statewide cite-and-release policy, including guidelines on what data to collect from those interactions, means that data across jurisdictions is incredibly varied and difficult to interpret,” said Dr. Ellen Stone, Director of Research at Texas Appleseed. “Texans would greatly benefit from a uniform cite-and-release policy that all jurisdictions collect data on.”
Ramifications of Unnecessary Arrests
The decision to arrest, rather than issue a citation, results in wasted resources, including police spending hours or more booking someone, overburdening local jails to detain people, and the time for magistrates to appear for arraignments. These unnecessary arrests also impact people’s lives, such as their employment and housing.
Separate research via the Lauren and John Arnold Foundation showed that even one day spent in jail decreased the likelihood of future court appearances — meaning the longer an individual is held, the less likely they are to appear in court to resolve their case.
When used, cite and release keeps low-level, nonviolent people out of detention and away from the negative consequences that stem from even a short jail stay. Common misdemeanors codified as cite-and-release eligible include the possession of low amounts of marijuana, graffiti damage under certain monetary amounts, and driving while license invalid (such as a suspended driver’s license stemming from an inability to pay for traffic tickets), among other minor offenses.
“Being placed in jail for something that could arguably be handled in the community is pretty torturous,” said Kayla Roane, Policy Advocate for Texas Appleseed’s Criminal Justice Project. “Especially for those struggling with addiction or on medication. You’re placed in a holding cell with barely any clothes on and no blankets, with people screaming and yelling all around you. Just to get thrown back onto the streets without any help/treatment or concern for my well-being and putting me at a much higher risk when I return right back to what I was doing before.”
In Cite and Release in Texas, Texas Appleseed makes three overarching policy recommendations, with the report itself offering even further details of the benefits to people, communities and the state overall:
- End warrantless arrests for Class C Misdemeanors with limited exceptions.
- Support the construction and implementation of a uniformed cite-and-release policy that all local jurisdictions can adopt and collect data on.
- Place a timeline on the construction and local adoption of uniform policy, to help better inform future appropriations.
About Texas Appleseed
As one of the most trusted resources for data-driven policy analysis and solutions, Texas Appleseed advocates at the state and local level for fair, just, and equitable laws. Our work has shaped hundreds of laws and positively affected millions of Texans by breaking down barriers through transformative policy solutions. Visit www.TexasAppleseed.org for more information.