Earlier this week, Pediatrics magazine published a study reporting that approximately 1 in every 3 Americans are arrested by the time they turn 23-years-old, a significantly higher number from the 22% estimated by a 1965 study.
There are many ambiguities within the report: The crimes committed are not specified, although minor traffic violations were not counted; also, the race, gender, and socioeconomic status of the participants were not disclosed. But the statistic alone should force us to reflect on the problems it raises.
The study is alarming for a number of reasons. First, because according to another recently published report by the FBI, violent and property-related crime has gone down, meaning that young people are being arrested for pettier offenses in larger numbers. Though the study doesn't break down the crimes people were arrested for, the report also implies one possible reason: drug use, and specifically marijuana. Nearly 750,000 people are arrested each year on marijuana possession, with young black people arrested at seven times the rate as white Americans (and still pot use continues to grow among high schoolers). It is clear that the rate of arrest doesn't lead to prevention of crime; instead, it leads to incredibly unbalanced prison populations and a widening divide between the inner-cities and the rest of America.
There are two conclusions to be drawn, both of which are equally frightening: One, that the prevalence of mental diseases or imbalances is growing, unchecked by schools, families, and mental health professionals, and causing more and more young people to commit crimes. The other is that young people — poor black young men, in particular — are slowly being pushed out of mainstream society. With criminal records, finding a job or applying for public housing becomes difficult; as for being taken out of society for months or years at a time, it can be even more damaging and permanently disrupt someone's education or work. What's more, being pulled out of society can increase feelings of alienation and separation.
This is clearly not a problem that should go unchecked. This study has opened up a discussion that should not be ignored by the government when dealing with prisons — many of which are privately owned and therefore have an incentive to increase arrest rates. Otherwise, we risk alienating generations and generations of young Americans.
Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk