Drug arrests were after all barely a thing in the 1960 survey — under 1% of total arrests.While details remain unclear, there’s definitely a lot more drug arrests than there used to be, with a lot of human consequences, whether that’s driving a general increase in arrests or whether it’s effectively absorbed from another category.The Huge World Of People With Arrest Records:In my posts on prison sentences and felony convictions, I discussed estimates of the total number of people with each on their record, and how that’s changed over time..I want to discuss similar estimates for arrest records..However, as with everything else to do with arrests, the numbers are both much larger and much less clear..There are limitations and nuances depending on the source of the data and the exact question asked..Administrative records or self-reported survey answers?.The current percentage of Americans who have been arrested or a projection of how many Americans will be arrested based on a particular set of cohorts?.Since most arrests are of relatively young people, and since the arrest rate has changed significantly over time, it all gets very complicated.What is clear is that a large percentage of Americans have been arrested at least once, and this seems to have been the case for a long time..Famously, in 1967 Robert Christensen wrote that 22% of Americans would be arrested, projecting from a contemporary cohort..(Unfortunately I don’t think this study is actually online anywhere.) A 1986 book chapter goes over a number of other studies and compares the results — work I can’t really evaluate — but they all seem to be around that ballpark if not higher.More directly, the General Social Survey’s “Arrest” question asks: “ Were you ever picked up, or charged, by the police, for any (other) reason whether or not you were guilty?”..About 11% of respondents said they had in 1973, and about 20% of respondents said they had in 2012.This is self-reported, however, and might well be a significant under-report..(Is the extent to which it’s an under-report constant over time? I don’t know.) In any given year from 1980 to 2014, you can look at the arrest rates for individual age groups on the BJS, in what’s called an “age-arrest curve”..In 2012, the number of arrests of 19-year-olds was around 12% of the population:And the number of arrests of this same cohort in 2011, 2012, and 2013 is around one-third of the population.. More details
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