In the online version of the journal Pediatrics from December 19 a study was released which share some disheartening and disturbing news. By the time they reach age 23, one third of American youth have been arrested at least once (this count excludes minor traffic violations). In 1965 it was 22 percent.
Genevra Pittman, of Reuters brings us the comments of Robert Brame of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who was one of the team analyzing the data:
Arrests in adolescents are especially worrisome, he told Reuters Health, because many repeat offenders start their ‘criminal career’ at a young age.
The researchers said it seems that the criminal justice system has taken to arresting both the young and old more than it did in the past, when fines and citations might have been given to some people who are now arrested.
‘If (police) find kids that are intoxicated or they have pulled over someone intoxicated… now, nine times out of 10 they’re going to make an arrest,’ Wright told Reuters Health.
‘We do have to question if arrest is an appropriate intervention in all circumstances, or if we need to rethink some of the policies we have enacted.’
While some might argue that harsher enforcement can ameliorate the crime, in truth it creates additional problems in the long term. Keep in mind as you read the following that a police record is an especially large cross to bear for minority juveniles. Brame’s assessment here is even more true for that segment of the population.
He pointed out that young people who have an arrest on their record might have more trouble getting jobs in the future. It’s one thing if that’s because they were involved in a violent crime, he continued, but another if their offence was non-violent, like drinking underage or smoking marijuana.
‘Arrest does have major social implications for people as they transition from adolescence to adulthood,’Wright said.
The study notes the importance of identifying major common causes of offending behavior, which can include physical or emotional abuse, untreated psychiatric disorders, and substance abuse issues. Carrie Gann at ABC News notes that the study suggests that pediatricians are a first line of defense for observing and identifying these issues with young patients. In addition they are well placed to both counsel children and provide resources to parents.
One of the problems faced by our broken juvenile justice system is the massive influx of new faces. In many cases the suspicion that arrests on technicalities are made just to “get them into the system,” seem worth investigating. At a time when the goal must be moving more offenders into rehabilitative programs it makes sense to look at arrest rates and see how they feed the monster.