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Study: far more Americans are arrested before 23 than in the 60s

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

That man was himself a juvenile delinquent once. He was first arrested for jumping a subway turnstile at age 12 or 13, he revealed. For him as for so many others, that early contact with law enforcement didn’t scare him straight, as was probably hoped. Instead, he ended up serving 15 years for drug possession. Now 44, he believes that young people are more likely to be irreparably damaged than set on the right path by law enforcement intervention at a young age.

Proving the truth of that supposition by scientific evidence, however, has been difficult. So much basic data must be analyzed, and that’s no mean feat. Even such basic information as the percentage of American youth who have been arrested takes effort to acquire.

The last time someone tried to find out what percentage of Americans had been arrested by age 23, and how racial and gender affected that arrest rate, was back in 1967.

In the late 60s, those researchers found, about 34 percent of all American men had been arrested for a non-traffic offense; 22 percent of Americans as a whole.

Two criminologists have just released a modern update to that 1967 study, and their peer-reviewed findings were just published in the journal “Crime & Delinquency.” Using Bureau of Justice Statistics data, along with surveys of more than 7,000 young Americans between 1997 and 2008, the researchers arrived at a startling conclusion: many more young people in the U.S. are being arrested now than in the past.

Shockingly, the researchers found that 40 percent of all American men in the study period had been arrested at least once -- and half of all African-American men.

What will society look like with so many of our young people will have arrests, if not convictions, on their records? Even arrest records can interfere with opportunities for education, jobs and even housing. Considering that crime rates have been dropping since the mid-1990s, why are we arresting young people in greater percentages than ever?

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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