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Criminal Justice

1 in 3 Americans Arrested by Age 23

Next time someone you know goes to jail…don’t worry, it might seem just like recess at school, just trade the lunchbox for commissary and subtract the kickball and add the handmade shanks.

A new study done by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte estimates that 1 in 3 Americans under the age of 23 have been arrested.  And not for speeding or DUI, but for non-traffic violations, such as “underage drinking, shoplifting, truancy, robbery, assault and murder.”

And apparently, to anyone who’s been paying close attention to the issue, it’s not even that shocking:

Although it may seem shocking that at least one-third of U.S. youth has an arrest record, those who study juvenile crime don’t find the figure to be out of line. Since the 1970s, America has become much tougher on crime, lengthening sentences, increasing the police force and quintupling the number of people incarcerated. During that time, the number of Americans in prison has gone from half a million to 2.3 million, with approximately 93,000 incarcerated youth. Given the changes in the criminal justice system, some increase in youth arrests was to be expected.

Now, granted, most of these arrests do not result in imprisonment, and many may not even make it on the permanent record.  In fact, I remember growing up that my friends and I used to talk about how our cutoff date for foolacting was age 16.  Can’t remember if we stuck to it or not.  But while we knew at what age it was “ok” to be arrested, most people do not.  And in fact, they shouldn’t have to.

I’m going to assume that American youth are not actually more prone to criminal activity than youth in other countries.  I could certainly be wrong on that, but I don’t think I am.  Instead, what the 33% arrest rate is more likely to reflect is the fact that our law enforcement, and more specifically, our drug law enforcement, (and even more specifically, our drug law enforcement of males in lower income and minority communities), has gone too far.  There shouldn’t be a competition to see how many kids we can throw in jail.  Jokes aside, it affects these kids’ lives…for the rest of their lives:

Although the literature is mixed, several previous studies indicate that kids who are incarcerated do significantly worse later on, compared with those who are given alternative sentences that allow them to remain in their communities. One study, for example, compared children who committed the same crimes but wound up with harsh or lenient sentences: those who were sentenced to juvenile detention were three times more likely to be re-incarcerated as adults, compared with those whose judges gave them lighter, alternative sentences.

Believe me, I know this from experience.  Not my own experience, but trust me on this one.  I’m not saying that we should let kids get away with bloody murder.  But an occasional beer or toke on the other hand…?

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