The criminal justice funnel refers to the process through which the number of criminal matters pending is decreased until only a small percentage of cases needs to be resolved by trial advocacy and incarceration.
The process limits the amount of offenders in court and incarcerated at any given time. The funneling process is estimated to result in only a relatively small number of criminal matters ever reaching the trial stage.
The funnel prevents the criminal justice system from becoming overburdened. Due to the decreased number of trials and people incarcerated, the system saves man hours and money.
Less-serious offenders are put on probation, where they are incarcerated only upon violating probation or committing another crime.
A person's exposure to the system may last months or even years. At any one of the hearings during this time frame, the judge may dismiss the charges for various reasons.
A common misconception is that the funnel process "lets criminals off." Instead, cases are often dismissed or pleas are bargained for due to lack of evidence.