CHARLESTON, South Carolina (REUTERS) - Almost half of black males and almost 40 per cent of white males are arrested in the United States by the time they are 23 years old, according to a study released this week.
In findings published in the journal Crime & Delinquency, researchers at several universities studied a representative sample of 7,335 people who reported that they had been arrested at a young age, said criminology professor Robert Brame at the University of South Carolina and lead author of the study.
Researchers found that more black and Hispanic men had been arrested as youths than white men for something other than a minor traffic violation. More men than women had been arrested by the time they are 23 years old.
By the time they reached 18 years old, 30 per cent of black and 26 per cent of Hispanic males compared to 22 per cent of white males had been arrested.
By the time they reached 23 years old, 49 per cent of black males, 44 per cent of Hispanic males, and 38 per cent of white males had been arrested for something other than a minor traffic violation.
Arrest rates among girls and women were about the same for white, Hispanic and black women, the study found.
The negative impacts of arrest include difficulty in gaining employment, housing, admission to college and university and financing for higher education, Prof Brame said. An arrest record also affects civic rights and privileges such as voting or adoption and can damage personal relationships, he said.
"Arrest is public information. The consequences are severe and get more severe when they turn into a conviction," he said. "As a society, we need to think about the consequences of arresting somebody when they're young. I think we underestimate the baggage this creates for people when they're making the transition from adolescent to adult."
In 2010, the team began researching what fraction of the US population has been arrested, using national survey data from 1997 to 2008 from the Bureau of Labour Statistics. Last year, the researchers reported that one-third of Americans had been arrested by age 23.
"Nobody had really looked at this question since the 1960s," Prof Brame said.
"Higher arrest records as time goes on are partly due to the presence of police officers in schools and greater likelihood that crimes such as domestic violence are reported more than they were in the past, Prof Brame said.
"A school-to-prison pipeline means that with officers in schools there are more arrests in and around school property for lots of minor offences," he said. "There is a tendency to police things in the schools that maybe would have been handled informally in the past."
Next, researchers will look at what crimes young people are arrested for, how often arrest turned into conviction and how many rearrests and reconvictions the study group had, Prof Brame said.
They'll also look at whether there are race differences in the types of offences that lead to arrest and whether there is a race bias in conviction rates, he said.