The Correctional Filter Process


In the American justice system, the correctional filter refers to the process that those arrested of crimes face. The filter begins with those that are arrested and ends with the sentencing of the guilty. Not all individuals arrested go all the way to the end of the process, which results in some type of incarceration or supervision, and thus are filtered out.

Types of Crimes

  • Being accused of a crime enters a person into the correctional filter. The vast majority of criminal offenses fall into one of two categories: misdemeanors and felonies. A misdemeanor is a less serious offense punishable with up to one year in a local jail or detention facility. A felony is a more serious crime that is punishable with a prison sentence and, in some cases, death for crimes such as first-degree murder.


  • Juveniles don't go through the correctional filter unless they are tried as adults. Juveniles are sentenced in family court for probationary supervision or sent to a youth detention center. The Outcomes for Arrest for Type 1 Felony crimes, published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2006, reported that of the 2,151,820 individuals arrested, 384,530 were juveniles, bringing the number of adults arrested down to 1,767,290.


  • The prosecutor of a case determines whether to prosecute the case, dismiss certain charges or reduce the charges to ones that encourage a defendant to plead guilty. Of the 1,767,290 adults left to go through the correctional filter from the 2006 FBI data, 648,595 were dismissed, leaving 1,118,695 adults to be prosecuted.

Plea Bargaining

  • A plea bargain is an option for a defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge than the one he was originally arrested for. During the plea bargaining process, a prosecutor may dismiss multiple charges against the defendant. Plea bargaining saves on trial costs in the justice system. Of the 1,118,695 adults prosecuted, 317,262 reportedly pleaded guilty to less serious misdemeanor charges and 801,433 felony complaints remained, of which 713,115 of them pleaded guilty to a felony charge according to the 2006 data produced from the FBI.

Trial and Sentencing

  • The remaining individuals left in the filter go to trial, where they are deemed guilty or not guilty by a jury of their peers or a bench trial, where the judge is responsible for determining guilt. Using the 2006 information published by the FBI, 36,866 were found not guilty, and the remaining 51,452 were found guilty. At the end of the filter, 1,081,829 adults were punished by terms of imprisonment, time in a county jail or under correctional supervision through probation or similar punishments. The remaining 1,069,060 were let go due to dismissed charges or a not guilty verdict in court.


  • Photo Credit Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
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