By age 23, 49 percent of all American black men will have been arrested at least once, according to a new study analyzing national survey data from 1997 to 2008. The study is the latest evidence that young black males are disproportionately exposed to the criminal justice system. But it also shows high rates of criminal interaction among all young American males. Some 38 percent of white males and 44 percent of Hispanic males will also have been arrested by the same age, according to the analysis in the journal Crime & Delinquency.
The study led by University of South Carolina criminologist Robert Brame tracked 7,000 youths starting between the ages of 12 and 17 who were surveyed over the course of several years, with a cut-off at age 23. Because the survey is limited in scope and relied on self-reporting, the results are not definitive. They do show, however, that “[c]umulative arrest prevalence rates are high, and there are good reasons for suspecting that these rates are not equally distributed throughout the population.”
The study aimed to expand from research on the United States’ astronomical prison population, recognizing that arrest has its own set of collateral consequences even when the individual is never charged or convicted, including loss of employment. And those exposed to the criminal justice system at a young age even through a police stop or arrest are considerably more likely to return to that system.
“A problem is that many males – especially black males – are navigating the transition from youth to adulthood with the baggage and difficulties from contact with the criminal justice system,” Brame said in a statement. What Brame describes is prevalent even within school walls, in what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline.
The study also aimed to distinguish how many young teens and adults are arrested once, while filtering out repeat arrests. FBI data, for example, shows that the arrest rate of African Americans is two times higher than that for whites, but it does not account for how many of those arrests were attributable to the same person.