One Third of Young Americans Arrested by Age 23…Is Drug Crackdown to Blame?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
American youth are landing in jail far more often than most realize, according to a new study that found about one-third will be arrested for a non-traffic offense by age 23. The research shows that between 25% and 41% of 23-year-olds have been arrested or taken into police custody at least once for a non-vehicular violation. By age 18 somewhere between 16% and 27% have wound up in jail. Nearly 50 years ago the projected rate was only 22% for those under 23, according to a 1965 study.
Researchers have posited a variety of reasons for the sharp increase in youth arrests, but one that stands out is the dramatic rise in arrests for possession of drugs and, in particular, for marijuana. The number of marijuana-related arrests for all ages more than doubled during the presidential administration of Richard Nixon, remained relatively steady under presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and dropped under George H.W. Bush. However, President Bill Clinton oversaw another doubling of cannabis-related arrests. The rate increased again under George W. Bush and has stabilized at the high level under Barack Obama.
-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
Cumulative Prevalence of Arrest From Ages 8 to 23 in a National Sample (by Robert Brame, Michael G. Turner, Raymond Paternoster, and Shawn D. Bushway, Pediatrics) (abstract only)

Marijuana Arrests, 1970-2010, by Presidential Administration (NORML) 


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