Arrests are up, but why?
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.