Objective: To estimate the cumulative proportion of youth who self-report having been arrested or taken into custody for illegal or delinquent offenses (excluding arrests for minor traffic violations) from ages 8 to 23 years.
Methods: Self-reported arrest history data (excluding arrests for minor traffic violations) from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (N = 7335) were examined from 1997 to 2008.
Results: By age 18, the in-sample cumulative arrest prevalence rate lies between 15.9% and 26.8%; at age 23, it lies between 25.3% and 41.4%. These bounds make no assumptions at all about missing cases. If we assume that the missing cases are at least as likely to have been arrested as the observed cases, the in-sample age-23 prevalence rate must lie between 30.2% and 41.4%. The greatest growth in the cumulative prevalence of arrest occurs during late adolescence and the period of early or emerging adulthood.
Conclusions: Since the last nationally defensible estimate based on data from 1965, the cumulative prevalence of arrest for American youth (particularly in the period of late adolescence and early adulthood) has increased substantially. At a minimum, being arrested for criminal activity signifies increased risk of unhealthy lifestyle, violence involvement, and violent victimization. Incorporating this insight into regular clinical assessment could yield significant benefits for patients and the larger community.