The issue of the over criminalization of our society has been the focus of an increasing amount of media coverage and even led to recent hearings in congress. As discussed in the past in this blog (September 27, 2011 blog), the number of federal criminal statutes has increased to over 4500 and the watering down of some basic protections has led to convictions of people without criminal intent. Now, a recent study reveals that the number of youths being arrested has steadily increased to a staggering 30% of all youths by the time they turn 23 years old. This number while staggering is not surprising in light of the trend toward over criminalization and the increased reliance on police to address problems.
The number itself bears repeating. Thirty percent of youths are arrested by age 23, nearly one third of all youths. This number reflects all youths, not any particular group and is therefore likely higher among boys than girls and among minorities than non-minorities. The explanation however, is a lot more elusive. Certainly, crime nationally is on a protracted decline but it seems the propensity to arrest, for even minor offenses is clearly on the upswing. There is clearly less of a willingness on the part of the police to allow a school or the parents to handle a minor infraction.
As a criminal defense lawyer, involved with the criminal justice system for more than 20 years, I have noticed, a dramatic increase in the willingness of the police to intervene in what used to be matters often left to the school or the parents. Recent examples that I have noticed include a young high school student who “keyed” another student’s car in the high school parking lot is arrested and charged with the felony of Criminal Mischief for damaging property in excess of $250. Another example involves youths who attend parties where underage drinking occurs are arrested rather than being brought to their parents. Often times the parents who hosted the party are arrested themselves, even if they didn’t know about the drinking.
The potential for these arrests as youths to have long lasting effects even into adulthood is a legitimate fear as youths with arrests and convictions can lose valuable civil rights, the ability to obtain professional licenses and the ability to get jobs. The study which led to the report concluded that risk factors such as “being poor, struggling in school and having a difficult home” life were all factors that increased the likelihood of a youth being arrested.
As we discuss in a future blog, the consequences of an arrest, even if it doesn’t result in a conviction can be devastating to a young person and his or her future plans. The societal issues that have created this problem need to be dealt with. However, more immediately, if you or a loved one has been arrested for an offense you should immediately obtain experienced legal representation who is in a position to explain the process and the potential consequences whether or not a conviction results.