AUDIO INTERVIEW & ARTICLE: Incarceration Nation

Incarceration Nation


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A study just released reveals a startling statistic: by the age of 23, one-third of Americans will be have an arrest on their records.

Michael G. Turner, Ph.D., an associate professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, discussed the study’s findings in this startling interview (18:55).


Why Are So Many Americans Getting Arrested?

By Dave Gahary

A study published in the December issue of Pediatrics by four university professors reveals a shocking new statistic: More than a third of Americans will be arrested by the age of 23, a sharp increase from a similar study done in the 1960s. As the new study states: “Since the last nationally defensible estimate based on data from 1965, the cumulative prevalence of arrest for American youth has increased substantially.”

The rising figure is in stark contrast to the rest of the world, where rates are significantly lower.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. At the end of 2007, the last year records are available, the U.S. had less than 5% of the world’s population and about 25% of the world’s prison population. Within the prison population, approximately 40% of inmates are black, 35% white, and 20% Hispanic. While whites are significantly underrepresented in the prison population relative to their population percentage of the U.S., and Hispanics account for about 16% of the U.S. population, blacks are about 12% of the U.S. population but 40% of the prison population.

In order to get a clearer picture of these startling findings, on December 22 AMERICAN FREE PRESS conducted an exclusive interview with one of the authors of the study, Dr. Michael G. Turner, an associate professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The lead author of the study teaches at the same school in Charlotte, and the others are from the University of Maryland at College Park and the State University of New York at Albany.


The study used self-reported arrest history data collected between 1997 and 2008 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. Respondents were between the ages of eight and 23. In the survey, 7,335 youths were asked whether they had ever been arrested or taken into custody for illegal or delinquent offenses. The study excluded stops for minor traffic violations.

The increase in arrests can be attributed to three major factors: the “war on drugs,” tougher enforcement in schools and delaying of the institution of marriage. Turner elaborated: “It could reflect a number of things. Part of it could be that we’re just getting tougher on certain types of crimes. When you look back on the 1960s compared to now, I think law enforcement is probably a little bit more aggressive on drug-related activities and violence-related activities.

“There’s also the issue with what’s going on in schools that have instituted zero-tolerance policies and things of those sorts.

“So whereas a fight years ago may have been broken up in the school, and kids were suspended or sent on their way, now they’re being referred to the police.”

Turner said that marriage is also a factor in incarceration rates.

“If you look at the age in which individuals get married, the age at which they first start giving birth to children, the age at which they get their first job, or the job after school, those are occurring later and later in life,” he said. “What we are suspecting is that, because these are occurring later in life, individuals are free to engage in more risky activities for a longer period of time.”

In the crumbling U.S. economy, all this spells trouble, especially for those with an arrest on their records. “Most job applications ask either ‘have you ever been arrested?’ or ‘have you ever been convicted?’ or both,” said Turner. “Now up to the age of 23 one-third of the population is having to check that box, when jobs are tight and the competition for employment is relatively fierce.”

The study began in 1997, when the respondents were between the age of 12 and 16 and allows the academics to follow them into their 30s and 40s.

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Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s ‘Underground Interview’ series.

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