By age 23, almost a third of Americans have been arrested for a crime, says a new study that researchers tell the New York Times is a measure of growing exposure to the criminal justice system in everyday life. The study, the first since the 1960s to examine arrest histories of a sample of adolescents and young adults over time, found that 30.2 percent of the 23-year-olds who took part reported having been arrested for an offense other than a minor traffic violation.
The total is significantly higher than the 22 percent found in a 1965 study that examined the same issue with different methods. The increase may be a reflection of the justice system’s becoming more punitive and more aggressive in its reach during the last half-century. Arrests for drug offenses are far more common, as have zero-tolerance policies in schools. The 30.2 percent figure is notable at a time when employers, aided by the Internet, routinely conduct criminal background checks on job candidates. “This estimate provides a real sense that the proportion of people who have criminal history records is sizable and perhaps much larger than most people would expect,” said criminologist Shawn Bushway of the State University at Albany and a co-author of the study, which appears in the journal Pediatrics.