Study: Nearly Half Of Black Men Arrested By Age 23

Jan 21, 2014

Nearly half of black men and 40 percent of white men are arrested at least once on non-traffic-related crimes by the time they turn 23.

That's according to a new study, which appeared in the journal Crime & Delinquency, which was conducted by criminologists at the University of South Carolina and the University at Albany. It is an analysis of national survey data from 1997 to 2008 of 7,000 teenagers and young adults, ages 18–23, and their arrest histories, which run the gamut from truancy and underage drinking to more serious and violent offenses. The study excludes arrests for minor traffic violations.

The authors found that by age 18, 30 percent of black men, 26 percent of Hispanic men and 22 percent of white men have been arrested.  By 23, those numbers climb to 49 percent for black men, 44 percent for Hispanic men and 38 percent for white men. 

Shawn Bushway, a criminal justice professor at the University at Albany, collaborated with University of South Carolina criminology professor Robert Brame on the study.  Bushway says that while the numbers may raise eyebrows, the survey results are not at all surprising to criminologists.

"We looked at a group of folks that were bon between 1980 and 1984, and they were followed, starting 1997, every year, asked whether they've been arrested. This was a study done the bureau of labor statistics by the department of labor. What we did was just simply try to cunt the number of people who had at least one arrest for a non-traffic offense by the time they were 23. We asked questions like 'Have you ever been arrested' on an employment application, we asked about convictions for example in employment or housing, but we don't really know how many people this effects, especially when you think about it by race and sex, which is what we were able to do here. There's one previous estimate that looks it it for men and women seperately, and it was done in 1967 and the number then was 34 per cent by age 23. So, we found that it's 40 per cent of all men were arrested at least once by age 23. That's what I mean by not being surprised. I mean it's not that different from before. It just speaks to the fact that this is a pretty common event. People get arrested pretty often."

Dave Lucas : "What does this study tell us about ourselves in 2014?"

Bushway: "It does say that there's been an increase in the last 30 to 40 years in the prevalence of arrests, maybe because we have more zero tolerance policies, particularly for young people in schools, for example. We're also more likely to arrest people for drugs, so there's probably a change in policy that's relating to offending and arrest. But also I think it tells us that arrest is an experience more people are likely to have in the United States, particularly men."

The study authors say the next step is to develop an understanding of the economic, social and law enforcement factors that can influence arrests and what role gender and race play.  The report preceded Governor Andrew Cuomo's announcement that 23 programs across New York State will share more than $5 million in grant funding to support alternatives to incarceration (ATI), alternatives to jail detention and programs for individuals incarcerated in local jails, all of which are designed to reduce crime and avoid further victimization.

Already, a statewide conversation has been taking place for months over New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy, which critics say targets minorities but supporters call common sense policing.

More than $250,000 in grant funding was earmarked for TASC of the Capital District.  TASC's Executive Director Joanne Schlang says the money will used to evaluate, refer and provide case management services using evidence-based practices to new offenders, probation or parole violators and returnees from state prison.   "To augment the services that we provide to people in the Capital District who are charged with new offenses, with parole violations and others who are returning from state prison. It funds evaluations, it funds placements, curriculums in parenting and employment programs and transitional housing in our two residences on Columbia Streeet."

Schlang says the fund will be spent over the course of a year.   "They've awarded the contract in such a way that the first one is a year and a half, and then there will be two succeeding contracts after that for a total of three and a half years."

In addition to Brame and Bushway, the research team included Ray Paternoster at the University of Maryland and Michael Turner at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The study, a representative sample of the larger population, builds on a previous one by the team that was released in January 2012 in the journal Pediatrics. That study garnered national attention for providing the first look since the 1960s at arrest prevalence and for its key finding that one in three people are arrested by age 23.

Brame says the next step is to develop 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,” Brame says. “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.

“We know from our two studies that these experiences are prevalent and that they vary across different demographic groups. Going forward it will be constructive to support systematic studies into the sources of these variations and to continue efforts to understand the effects of criminal justice interventions on sanctions on future behavior.”