A fascinating, if troubling, study released Monday finds that one in three young people will be arrested by age 23.
The study, the first since the 1960s to look at the arrest histories of a national sample of adolescents and young adults over time, found that 30.2 percent of the 23-year-olds who participated reported having been arrested for an offense other than a minor traffic violation.
The study, at first glance, makes me wonder: Are there more arrests because there are more cops and criminal justice infrastructure today, or because more young people are law-breaking? Legendary criminologist Alfred Blumstein said in USA Today that “the increase in arrests for young people in the latest study is unsurprising given several decades of tough crime policies.
“I was astonished 44 years ago. Most people were,” says Blumstein, a professor of operations research at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University who served with Christensen on President Lyndon Johnson’s crime task force.
Now, Blumstein says, youth may be arrested for drugs and domestic violence, which were unlikely offenses to attract police attention in the 1960s. “There’s a lot more arresting going on now,” he says.
My second curiosity is what the study, if accurate, means for our society. Such widespread exposure to our bulky criminal justice system might not be a bad thing — it might steer an otherwise law-abiding citizen from a lapse in judgement later on. Then again, acclimation to the criminal justice system could also desensitize the experience and actually decrease someone’s fear of law-breaking.