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Wake up call: 1 in 3 U.S. teens will be arrested, study says

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 19th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

There is shocking news about the state of the United States' teenagers and young adults. A new study estimates that roughly one in three U.S. youths will be arrested for a non-traffic offense by the age of 23.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - As posted online by the journal Pediatrics, about 25 percent to 41 percent of 23-year-olds have been arrested or taken into police custody at least once for a non-traffic offense. Factoring in missing cases, that percentage could lie between about 30 percent and 41 percent.

The study also shows that by age 18, about 16 percent to 27 percent have been arrested.

"It's a wake-up call," Robert Sege, MD, PhD, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect says.

"By and large, we pediatricians tend to see our patients as victims," Sege says, a pediatrics professor at Boston University. The new report suggests pediatricians must also consider that their patients could become victimizers.

Many children, teens and young adults are setting themselves up for a destructive and toxic start to life, whether it is from violent and unsafe behavior, to an increased risk for an unhealthy lifestyle.

The researchers base their conclusion on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, ages 8 to 23. Data analyzed in the new study came from national surveys of youth conducted annually from 1997 to 2008.

The researchers cite some "compelling reasons" for the increase.

"The criminal justice system has clearly become more aggressive in dealing with offenders (particularly those who commit drug offenses and violent crimes) since the 1960s," the authors, all criminologists, write. In addition, "there is some evidence that the transition from adolescence to adulthood has become a longer process."

From the 1920s through the 1960s, the proportion of the population that was incarcerated stayed remarkably stable at about 100 inmates per 100,000 people. Researcher Robert Brame, PhD, of the department of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina says that figure has soared to 500 inmates per 100,000 people.

More aggressive treatment of offenders has led to a decline in the crime rate, Brame says. "I think it's pretty clear that some violent crimes have been prevented by having people locked up in prison."

Brame, himself the father of three young children says that he and his colleagues usually publish their research in journals read by criminologists, not pediatricians. They wanted to reach out to pediatricians because they're especially well-suited to heading off problems.

"Our main purpose in this paper was to get pediatricians to think about this and maybe have a broader discussion with their patients than they otherwise would have."

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