By Mark Duell
Almost one in three American teenagers and young adults have been arrested by the age of 23 for anything from drug use to violent crime.
Experts believe the increase is not necessarily because of more criminal activity – but a more zealous police approach to arresting young people.
Researchers were left surprised by the arrest figure – which has risen to 30 per cent, compared to the last available figure of 22 per cent in 1965.
‘It was certainly higher than we expected based on what we saw in the 1960s, but it wasn’t dramatically higher,’ said Robert Brame.
Dr Brame of the University of North Carolina and his colleagues analysed data from a national youth survey conducted between 1997 and 2008.
They believe the increase might not necessarily be down to more criminal behaviour in youth. At age 12, less than one per cent had been arrested.
Dr Wright of the University of Cincinnati said that many police who find ‘intoxicated kids’ now make an arrest ‘nine times out of 10’.
‘We do have to question if arrest is an appropriate intervention in all circumstances, or if we need to rethink some of the policies,’ he added.
The researchers looked at the annual survey which followed adolescents aged 12 to 16 in its first year and onwards to the age of 23.
Arrests in adolescents are especially worrisome because many repeat offenders start their criminal career at a young age.
The researchers said it seems that the criminal justice system has taken to arresting both the young and old more than it did in the past.
In days gone by fines and citations might have been deemed acceptable. Now many will find their employment prospects damaged by an arrest on their record – even for a minor offence.
‘Arrest does have major social implications for people as they transition from adolescence to adulthood,’ Dr Wright said.
Dr Brame told MailOnline that the researchers are still looking at ‘more detailed analyses’ to break down the data, but they are not yet finished.
The ‘Cumulative Prevalence of Arrest From Ages 8 to 23 in a National Sample’ study was released in the Pediatrics journal on Monday.