One in three, arrested by 23

A fascinating, if troubling, study released Monday finds that one in three young people will be arrested by age 23.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests growth in the “arrest record” population of the United States. From the New York Times report:

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.

6 thoughts on “One in three, arrested by 23

  1. This also means that 1 in 3 youth will have trouble getting employment. A criminal record is the new Jim Crow where businesses are legally allowed to discriminate. Not only will these youths be desensitized by jail time but may be forced to make a living in the underground economy as a result. This is not a hopeful trend.

  2. I have to wonder if the problem may be more related to a “laissze faire” attitude against classical social attitudes taken by our younger citizens due to the lax environment created since the 1970’s in a mostly permissive educational system.

    It seems an entire generation grew up in the later 20th century believing it is acceptable to “do your own thing,” and expect someone else to pay for their excesses. A great example are the contemporary “Occupy Wall Street” protesters who riot against “the system,” not knowing what this system is, but wanting taxpayers to pay for their housing, education, medical bills, food, transportation… like somehow they “deserve” such benefits simply by being citizens of the United States.

    We find a greater percentage of students experimenting with drugs, alcohol and sex, many with the encouragement of their teachers, and not caring about the downside… no job skills, little education, and of course, unwanted pregnancy.

    So, my guess (and yes, this is an opinion) is more young people are not arrested because of a more aggressive “police state,” but because of their own illegal behavior.


  3. Though not quite a teenager in the 60s I don’t remember flash mobs randomly selecting people to beat unmercifully. Arguments at most escalated to fisticuffs in the parking lot, not the knife fights and shootings of today. Pot was the drug of choice (you know the drug everyone thinks should be legal), not meth, ecstasy or any of the other drugs rampant today. The 20th century was marked with greater respect for parents & for law enforcement, police were more likely to take a kid home for minor offenses in many areas of the country. Today, you have mobs, occupiers, anarchists …

  4. From my view, kids get arrested for the things that all of us did as kids. How many of us drank before we turned 21? I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. Now if a kid gets caught drinking he gets a criminal record and has to go through all kinds of abuse programs. I’m not sure what D. Rafeal is talking about, I have a young adult daughter and from what I’ve seen, her group is so much more well behaved than mine was as a kid (we never got in any trouble). Remember, the 60’s gave us Haight-Asbury. There are all kinds of documentaries on it. I think the drug of choice back in the 60’s was LSD.

  5. The ‘Journal of Educational Responsibility’ from WWU called for submissions on the School-to-Prison pipeline in 2011. They were due by December 31st and will be published in June.

    This link is from that blog.

    The zero-tolerance laws, the ensuing criminal record, and the eventual inability to find quality employment because of that criminal record are a legal form of discrimination.

    I get the idea that adults in my community expect, even encourage, kids to break laws, try pot, and make serious mistakes. Certain kids, anyway. Don’t they, as adults, understand the ramifications of illegal behavior? Or the ramifications of their words? There is that and there is the lack of affirmation and recognition if a kids steers clear of those pitfalls.

    Basically, kids aren’t allowed to make mistakes anymore. Unfortunate, because people learn from mistakes.

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