Nearly half of all African-American males are arrested by age 23, outpacing their White counterparts, according to a new study published Jan. 6 in the journal Crime & Delinquency.
Robert Brame, the study’s lead author and a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina, said the racial differences are the most striking aspect of the study. Compared to the 49 percent of the Black male population arrested at least once for a non-traffic offense by age 23, approximately 40 percent of White males are arrested by that age.
The disturbing findings present weighty implications for the Black community as arrests can severely impact an individual’s ability to find employment, pursue education and participate in their communities, researchers said.
"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. "Criminal records that show up in searches can impede employment, reduce access to housing, thwart admission to and financing for higher education and affect civic and volunteer activities such as voting or adoption. They also can damage personal and family relationships."
The study, which researchers said represents the first set of contemporary findings on the risk of arrest across race and gender, analyzed national survey data from 1997 to 2008 of teenagers and young adults ages 18 to 23, and their arrest histories. Excluding arrests for minor traffic violations, the study considered a range of offenses including truancy and underage drinking to more serious and violent offenses.
Among the study’s key findings was that, by age 18, almost one-third of Black males, 26 percent of Hispanic males and 22 percent of White males have been arrested. Some states consider adolescents as young as age 16 and 17 to be adults in the eyes of the law.
As the ages increase, so do the rates of arrest: by age 23, 49 percent of Black males, 44 percent of Hispanic males and 38 percent of White males have been detained by law enforcement, the study found.
Among females, the prevalence of arrests also increased as they aged, but the variations based on race were slight—arrests of White females actually slightly outpace their minority counterparts. At age 18, arrest rates were 12 percent for White females and 11.8 percent and 11.9 percent for Hispanic and Black females, respectively. By age 23, arrest rates were 20 percent for White females and 18 percent and 16 percent for Hispanic and Black females, respectively.
The study builds on a previous effort by the team, which includes Ray Paternoster at the University of Maryland, Michael Turner at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Shawn Bushway at the University at Alban. The earlier study was released in January 2012 in the journal Pediatrics and was the first that examined arrest prevalence since the 1960s; researchers found that one in three persons are arrested by age 23.
Brame said additional research needs to focus on developing an understanding of the economic, social and law enforcement factors that can influence arrests and what role gender and race play.
"As a society, we often worry a great deal about the effects of children watching television, eating junk food, playing sports and having access to good schools," he said. "Experiencing formal contact with the criminal justice system could also have powerful effects on behavior and impose substantial constraints on opportunities for America’s youth."