Almost half of black males and almost 40 percent of white males are arrested in the United States by the time they are 23 years old, according to a study released this week.
In findings published in the journal Crime & Delinquency, researchers at several universities studied a representative sample of 7,335 people who reported that they'd been arrested at a young age, said Robert Brame, criminology professor at the University of South Carolina and lead author of the study.
Researchers found that more black and Hispanic men had been arrested as youths than white men for something other than a minor traffic violation. More men than women had been arrested by the time they are 23 years old.
By the time they reached 18 years old, 30 percent of black and 26 percent of Hispanic males compared to 22 percent of white males had been arrested.
By the time they reached 23 years old, 49 percent of black males, 44 percent of Hispanic males, and 38 percent of white males had been arrested for something other than a minor traffic violation.
Arrest rates were about the same for white, Hispanic, and black women, the study found.
The negative impacts of arrest include difficulty in gaining employment, housing, admission to college and university, and financing for higher education, Brame said. An arrest record also affects civic rights and privileges such as voting or adoption and can damage personal relationships, he said.
"Arrest is public information. The consequences are severe and get more severe when they turn into a conviction," he said. "As a society, we need to think about the consequences of arresting somebody when they're young. I think we underestimate the baggage this creates for people when they're making the transition from adolescent to adult."
In 2010, the team began researching what fraction of the U.S. population has been arrested, using national survey data from 1997-2008 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, the researchers reported that one-third of Americans had been arrested by age 23.
"Nobody had really looked at this question since the 1960s," Brame said.
"Higher arrest records as time goes on are partly due to the presence of police officers in schools and greater likelihood that crimes such as domestic violence are reported more than they were in the past, Brame said.
"A school-to-prison pipeline means that with officers in schools there are more arrests in and around school property for lots of minor offenses," he said. "There is a tendency to police things in the schools that maybe would have been handled informally in the past."
Next, researchers will look at what crimes young people are arrested for, how often arrests turned into convictions and how many re-arrests and re-convictions the study group had, Brame said.
They'll also look at whether there are race differences in the types of offenses that lead to arrest and whether there's a race bias in conviction rates, he said.
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