Almost 1 in 3 U.S. Youths Arrested by Age 23, Researchers Say

About 30 percent of Americans by age 23 have been arrested at least once for something other than a traffic violation, increasing their chances of professional and family strife, researchers say.

By age 18, about 16 percent to 27 percent of teenagers have been picked up by police, according to a study released today in the journal Pediatrics. The report is based on questionnaires of more than 7,300 young people conducted from 1997 to 2008.

Youth with arrest records have lower earnings, longer periods of unemployment and a greater risk of family conflict than those without, according to the study. The previous best estimate of arrests for non-traffic offenses was done in 1965, and showed that about 22 percent of U.S. adults had been apprehended at least once by age 23.

“What we’re trying to do is heighten pediatricians’ awareness of this to have a broader discussion than they otherwise would have,” said Robert Brame, a criminologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and lead author of the study.

Brame encouraged pediatricians to note that children who are most at risk of arrest later as teenagers or young adults are hyperactive, have difficulty concentrating, have poor relationships with their parents, suffer from abuse or neglect, or are bullied. It may be possible for doctors to intervene early to prevent arrests, he said.

No Data

“Until now there simply was no contemporary national prevalence estimate of the risk of a criminal arrest for American youth,” the authors wrote. “This is in spite of the fact that having an arrest record is known to be an important risk marker for violence involvement, violent victimizations, and an unhealthy and unsafe lifestyle.”

The increase in arrest rates is primarily in ages 19 through 22, and may reflect the delay in marriage and careers as more young people seek higher education, increasing the length of “adolescence,” Brame said. The increasing aggressiveness of the criminal justice system in prosecuting drug offenses and violent crime also may help account for the higher numbers, he said.

The researchers used a nationally representative sample of 7,335 youth who participated in surveys beginning in 1997 as 12 to 16 year olds. The surveys continued through 2008 as participants were asked a variety of questions about their activities including whether they’d been arrested by police. Researchers said they estimated the rate of those who didn’t respond to the questions, accounting for the range in the arrest rate.

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