Half of Black Males, 40% of White Males Arrested by 23

Half of Black Males, 40% of White Males Arrested by 23

Nearly half of black males and almost 40 percent of white males in the United States are arrested by age 23—which can hurt their ability to attend school, secure employment and participate fully in their communities, according to a new study in the journal Crime & Delinquency. The study's authors include Professor Ray Paternoster, a faculty member in the University of Maryland's No.1-ranked Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice.

This groundbreaking report outlines the first contemporary findings on how the risk of arrest varies across race and gender, analyzing national survey data from 1997 to 2008 of 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 study reveals a higher prevalence of arrest among black males compared to white males, and little race variation in arrest rates among black and white females.

"These findings are troublesome because they show that a large proportion of young males, particularly African-American males, will carry the stigma of an arrest. What makes this so problematic is that the repercussions will be manifested throughout their adult years as youth with arrest histories—even if the arrest does not result in a conviction—will find it difficult to find full-time and adequately paying employment, and without adequate employment they do not make attractive marriage partners," Professor Paternoster said. "Our findings would suggest that for African-American males, the cumulative probability of an arrest by age 23 is higher than the cumulative probability completing college. This does not bode well for their futures."

Other key findings include:

  • By age 18, 30 percent of black males, 26 percent of Hispanic males and 22 percent of white males have been arrested.
  • By age 23, 49 percent of black males, 44 percent of Hispanic males and 38 percent of white males have been arrested.
  • While the prevalence of arrest increased for females from age 18 to 23, the variation between races was slight. 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.

Professor Paternoster said that while the study's findings are eye-opening, they prompt further inquiry and investigation.

"This is the first study in a very long time to be able to get these estimates of the cumulative risk of arrest, and it would be expecting too much for this one study to answer many questions. For instance, we observed that African-American males had a greater risk of arrest than white males, a difference we did not see among females, and it is not clear why this would be so. Further, how much of the difference between African-American and white males is due to differences in behavior and how much is due to other factors like differences in police behavior or the behavior of victims is an important question for future research," Professor Paternoster said.

In addition to Professor Paternoster, the study's researchers include lead author Robert Brame of the University of South Carolina, Shawn Bushway of the University of Albany and Michael Turner of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This 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.

The research team next will seek to develop an understanding of the economic, social and law enforcement factors that can influence arrests and what role gender and race play.

January 10, 2014

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