Early contact with criminal justice system has long-term effects

[Photo by Sophia Nahli Allison]

[Photo by Sophia Nahli Allison]

Arrests appear to follow a racial line, according a new study, which found nearly half–49 percent–of black males and 44 percent of Hispanic men in the United States are arrested by age 23. By comparison, 38 percent of white men were arrested by age 23.

The study looks at nationwide data from 1997-2008. It was conducted by Robert Brame, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina, and published Monday in the journal Crime and Delinquency. 


Racial disparities aren’t fresh news. But the study underscores the early age at which many youth come in contact with the criminal justice system.

In Chicago, for example, a study by Chicago-based Project NIA found that in 2012, black youth under the age of 17 accounted for 79 percent of juvenile arrests and were arrested 10 times more frequently than white youth under the age of 17.

So what are the long-term effects of being arrested? The study mentions a few: trouble finding jobs, reduced access to housing and community participation, and thwarted educations.

Brame said early contact with the criminal justice system can have life-long effects. “Many males – especially black males – are navigating the transition from youth to adulthood with the baggage and difficulties from contact with the criminal justice system,” he said.

Some activists in Chicago, like Project NIA’s Mariame Kaba, have long been saying that contact with the criminal justice system only exacerbates problems for many youth. “We’re going to need statewide reforms of our drug laws, more jobs, a different policing policy, and a way to address our mental health crisis–especially NOT closing community-based clinics” to end incarceration, she told The Chicago Reporter in December.

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