Arrests are up, but why?

December 20, 2011

Today both USA Today and Bloomberg reported a study from Professor Robert Brame of the University of North Carolina claiming that one in three people under the age of 23 had been arrested at least once. These shocking findings, based on self-reporting surveys the Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted with youths on their law-enforcement histories, represents a huge jump from 1965, when one in five under-23-year-olds reported that they had been arrested. Has the nation gone wild, or have the police gone wild arresting young people?

U.S. Census Bureau data shows us that the size of the combined 15-24 age group has remained fairly constant as the nation gets bigger and older. Meanwhile, expenditures for police protection at the local, state and federal level have sky-rocketed 125 percent in constant-dollar terms between 1982 and 2002, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (page 5, table 2).

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report also details the rise in employment for local police officers, from 590,463 in 1982 to 888,321 in 2007 — an increase of 43 percent (Page 8, table 11). To put that into context, U.S. population rose 36 percent between 1980 and 2010.

The study’s author, according to Bloomberg, suggests possible sociological and criminal justices causes for the increase in arrests:

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.

The numbers, if accurate, are just stunning. The tiny sample size and self-reporting beg for more thorough research. It’s had to imagine American youth has become so lawless, but not so hard to see how we may have police who need something to do.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Excluding minor traffic violations, America’s youth are arrested or taken into custody for criminal activities, resulting in a destructive and unhealthy start in life. In the study, “Cumulative Prevalence of Arrest From Ages 8 to 23 in a National Sample​,” in the January 2012 Pediatrics (published online Dec. 19), researchers estimated the cumulative arrest data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from ages 8 to 23 years from 1997-2008. ap-press-room/Pages/Substantial-Fraction px?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-00 00-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription =ERROR%3a+No+local+token

Posted by Cate_Long | Report as abusive

Why are local municipalities going bankrupt? Well besides cases of general corruption they all have too many cops making too much money arresting too many people which results in jailing too many people. Every step of this process costs money. Cuts need to start here. End the failed War on Drugs. Traffic patrols have become more about revenue than safety; we don’t need hundreds of cops on the side of the road collecting 100k salaries +pension just to click a radar gun in one hand and munch a donut in the other. Enough is enough. Time to trim the fat (officers).

Posted by anarcurt | Report as abusive

What one person sees as “ambition” another sees as “greed”. Reality is increasingly a matter of perspective. Right and wrong are increasingly seen as “relative” rather than “absolute”.

Values once homogeneous in American civil society are today increasingly questioned and even challenged by youths who lack the experience and maturity to understand the possible long term effects of their actions. As increasingly permissive parents fail to instill common values in children through example and discipline, churches and schools are increasingly incapable of filling the void.

What fills it is attitudes from their peers “on the street”. With ever lower academic expectations, few personal duties or responsibilities and few jobs, otherwise unoccupied youth increasingly turn their energies to pursuits our society discourages, such as street racing, gang activities, drug use and/or distribution, theft and even prostitution.

This may be “natural behavior” but no healthy society can Afford to have it become “normal behavior”. When children are not taught the meaning of the word “NO” at home by those who love them, they will eventually learn it from those who don’t in a manner usually brutal and sometimes fatal.

The number of police “on the beat” quickly learn that they do not reduce crime and criminal activity among youth by example and persuasion, but by taking increasingly dedicated and dangerous sociopaths off the street. That, and only that has measurable effect in discouraging their otherwise unoccupied peers from such involvement. That is how they “succeed” and get promoted. Police incentives are clear.

The incentives for our youth today are no longer. When no well planned, well marked path is given youth to follow, they will find their own path and it’s destination may not be good for anyone. If we do not define the society we want and train our youth to be the citizens we want, then we get more and more human “weeds”.

I think the problem is not that America’s law are “unreasonably prohibitive”. It is, instead, the increasing chasm between laws consistent with an American society increasingly obsolete and youth raised in a day-to-day environment of lower and lower personal expectations and accountability.

Just like a disconnect in the earth’s crust, when enough force builds in the “social contract” there is an “adjustment” that is not predictable as to when, how violent or how much damage is done. The human brain is not so much different from a new computer in that what we put in it is pretty much what we get out of it. Garbage in, garbage out.

As Walt Kelly once said in his Pogo comic strip: “We has met the enemy and he is us”.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

There are several things going on. First, at 18 when I had a beer I was just having a beer. Now, that would be a crime (Minor In Possession).

Next, the police are populating databases, and if they arrest you they do not have to get permission to collect identifying information (nor delete it if they end up wrong on the facts or decide not to prosecute). They already have your photo from your drivers license (you probably were not aware that you gave implied consent on your last renewal) that allows facial recognition (google L-1 Identity Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: ID), they probably have the contract for the system your state uses, including the photo database. My military contacts tell me they make pretty good stuff for field work), and would love to add your DNA if they could get it. They are building a national law enforcement database, whether congress and the legislatures give permission or not. It may consist of independent nodes now, but they will fix the networking problems in time, and access will be quick and total.

Last we have moved to zero tolerance on just about everything.

But the single biggest factor is the war on drugs. The documentation on the impact that has had on police budgets is out there, and if you look you will see that has been very lucrative for some of them indeed. But if you also look you will find that many of the local law enforcement agencies have faced severe budget compression. In my state, if you are a sheriff outside of the metro area you may have enough money to gas your patrol vehicles and buy ammo and new shirts, but not much more. They have quickly become addicted to Homeland Security money when they can get it, and by expropriation of drug crime money when the opportunity comes.

Tocqueville long ago said that if America lost democracy and became a totalitarian state, it would be in the form of a paternalistic one. Trust me, they are looking out for our welfare.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

With a closer look at the survey you will notice that its authors tend to link (to be more specific they emphasize on the correlation between) higher chances to be arrested, and problems at home or at school.
Not a big revelation for you I guess.
Then why is everybody talking about the Police over here?
What about divorce rates dramatic increase (from 1965 it should be a lot higher than Police budget increase…), education problems in the US, etc.
I am not saying Police is not taking part in arresting people and the obvious fact that this does cost an awful lot of money.
Neither am I denying that the US are becoming a land of prohibition (start storing alcohol, you never know…)
But I am not sure it is the right focus for the talks over here?

Posted by LaurentG | Report as abusive


You wrote that your lack of regard for Americans is, “Based on my personal experience with many thousands of Americans from all over the US”?

Really? How many thousands? In what context? Where in the U.S. were you and in what capacity? That would help me, at least, to determine that you have sufficient empirical evidence to support your “insights” into Americans and their youth.

This American invites you – no, implores you – to take a deep, relaxing breath and turn away from Americans at your earliest opportunity. We won’t mind. We won’t miss you in the slightest.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

Arrests are up but why?

Obviously, the answer is the law and the legal system. Police can arrest anyone. The courts do not punish police officers for making too many arrests. Just another reason to get federal funds and equipment out of the hands of the thousands of overpaid police officers in America.

Posted by M.C.McBride | Report as abusive

I think it’s a combination of two factors that together become compounded. One, the subconscious messages in the pop culture today promote this type of behavior much moreso than even a generation ago. It’s easy for adults to discern away from that, but young people searching for identities become very vulnerable and at risk. Two, combine that with the enmasse erosion of the stable family unit structure for guidance and support, what we end up with is the perfect storm for the literal projection of these images that many young people turn to and then act out.

Posted by avgprsn | Report as abusive

The youth problem happens not just in the U.S.
It’s a global issue. It’s the fallout of a combination of factors; the failure of the school system, the economic downturns causes both parents to work, the overly materialistic world, and the prevalence of violence in the culture. Children should be loved, protected, guided from the early age to have a healthy start in life.

Posted by BellCharm | Report as abusive

I have to agree with M.C.McBride. The answer is the law and the legal system. Two and a half years ago I was arrested while visiting in Akron and walking on the sidewalk with my wife. I was handcuffed, thrown to the ground and beaten with nightsticks for walking near a hospital on a Friday morning. After spending $2,000 for legal assistance the police claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.

What I learned during two and a half days in jail was alarming. Although Akron is a rather small town there were 48 males and 13 females arrested that Friday. A number considered normal. I was in an 8 by 10 room with 11 others and no ventilation. Even the door was solid. On a hot summer day it was unbearable. Saturday morning we were all taken to video arraignment where I heard all 61 arraignments over the loud speaker. Of the 61 people, most were under the age of 23 or 24. One of the 61 people had committed a crime. My attorney later told me that after 9/11 the size of police forces increased across the country and many cities had quotas of people who had to be arrested daily to show that local law enforcement was working aggressively to identify potential terrorists before another disaster occurred.

The other 11 men in my cell had also been handcuffed, thrown to the ground and beaten with nightsticks. Most had been arrested for being black while walking in a white neighborhood. One was arrested for being white while walking through a black neighborhood. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon. While carrying home groceries from the corner store for his wife and one year old child, this laid off person was stopped, searched and found to be carrying the same key chain I received years ago from a Ford dealership when I bought a new Ford. The key chain included a chrome plated one inch penknife with the blue Ford emblem on one side and containing a fingernail file and short blade. As he was being hauled away from the front of his rented house his wife stopped screaming in horror while watching her handcuffed husband being beaten and went out to the sidewalk to collect the groceries.

Of the dozens of horrible stories I heard during the arraignment I’ll relate two. The first was a girl who had just graduated from Harvard law school, passed her bar exam on the first attempt and was finishing her first week of employment at an Akron law firm. During the week she and another newly employed attorney were working through lunch to impress their new employer. She went downstairs to a drug store to buy two yogurts when she was arrested for prostitution. At the arraignment she was told that her court hearing would be Monday at 9 AM. She asked for a later date since she was new to the area and knew only her workmate and the attorney who hired her. She needed time to try to explain to her family the injustice that had befallen her and find legal council. Her request was denied. She started crying not expecting that a female judge would impose another injustice on her just hours after the first injustice. The judge responded, “Too bad. Sounds like you have a problem. Unless you post $10,000 bail you’ll be held in jail until your hearing. Next.” The young lady was carried away crying uncontrollably. Apparently, the real life legal system was much different than the academic legal system she had studied at Harvard.

The second story is on the lighter side. After the arraignment of the lone criminal out of 61 people arrested, the woman who committed the crime of running a preschool day care service while manufacturing crack cocaine in her condominium, the man seated across from me cheered. He was the person who reported her to the police. He lived in the condo on the other side of wall next to her condo. His employer had transferred him to Akron for one year to assist with a project at the company’s Akron branch. After a couple weeks he became suspicious of his neighbor’s activities. He didn’t know she had been arrested. Prior to arresting her, two policemen came to his condo, handcuffed him, beat him and took him to jail after smashing his TV and denying his requests to change out of his pajamas and pick up his wallet that was laying on the table on the patio. At our release Sunday evening, this man was expected to walk 12 miles home in his pajamas and plastic thongs issued to us at the jail. No longer surprised by the gross behavior of law enforcement I offered to take him home. My wife had been in the parking lot since Friday morning making failed attempt after failed attempt to see me or at least learn of my condition. We checked her out of the local motel she had been using while waiting and had pleasant conversation while driving home the hardened criminal I recently met.

Posted by VoveoPacis | Report as abusive

While a few of you wrote more eloquently, BellCharm has the right of it. It’s as simple and as tragic, as that.

Posted by Preedism | Report as abusive

take marijuana convictions out of the equation and we drop back to one in five, Privation of our prison system boasts annual growth rates of 20 percent to its investors, we can connect the dots……………

Posted by rothchild | Report as abusive