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Study: 40 to 50 percent of American males are arrested by age 23

A recent peer-reviewed study in the journal “Crime & Delinquency” revealed a shocking truth: nearly 40 percent of white men and 50 percent of African-American men in the U.S. have been arrested at least once by the time they reach age 23. Moreover, 20 percent of African-Americans women, 18 percent of white women and 16 percent of Latinas had been arrested by that age. The racial disparity deserves serious attention, but the sheer number of arrests itself is staggering.

The last time anyone attempted to calculate the youth arrest rate was in 1967. Back then, an average of 34 percent of men and 22 percent of Americans overall had been arrested by age 23. Now those numbers have grown from 40 percent for men and 30 percent overall.

The researchers reviewed annual data compiled by the Bureau of Justice statistics and, between 1997 and 2008, surveyed around 7,000 young people for additional details. For example, respondents were asked if they had ever been arrested for something besides a traffic offense. The researchers heard about offenses ranging from minors caught in possession of alcohol to violent crimes. Additional research is planned on the arrests, as well as conviction and recidivism rates.

"Many, many people are involved with the criminal justice system at this level," commented one lead author, criminologist from SUNY-Albany, “And treating them all as if they're hardened criminals is a serious mistake.”

The authors hope this information will influence public policy away from subjecting so many people to arrests that can haunt them for years.

One man, who was first arrested as a young teen for jumping a subway turnstile, said that experience set him on the road toward crime. He later served 16 years in prison for drug possession but now runs a gang diversion program.

"It's really damaging ... putting handcuffs on a child at 12, 13 or 14 years old," he told the Associated Press. "Even for something like jumping a turnstile, those acts have ripple effects that can be catastrophic."

We’ve long known that early contact with the criminal justice system is a major negative force in the lives of minority youth. Many, however, may not have realized the full extent of the problem. What does it mean for society when 30 percent of young adults are haunted by arrest records?

Source: ABC News, "Nearly Half of Black Men Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds," Jake Pearson, Associated Press, Jan. 20, 2014

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