Dr. Robert Brame On America’s Increasing Taste For Locking Americans Up
- 50% percent of black males and 40% of white males will be arrested by the time they’re 23, according to Dr. Brame’s new study.
- Is America a police state?
- An arrest record, with no conviction, can make it impossible to find a job in some states.
- Violent crime has plummeted yet the number of Americans getting arrested continues to rise.
- Dr. Brame says nobody’s sure of the role Roe versus Wade plays in the sharp dip in violent crime.
Now comes news that nearly 40% of white males in America are arrested by the time they’re 23. Is America a police state? Joining us is Dr. Robert Brame. He is a Criminology professor at the University of South Carolina, and the lead author of this study.
David: Dr. Brame, nearly 40% of white men have been arrested by the time they’re 23. So America either has a serious problem with white men or the police, which means America has a serious problem with white men.
Now, these are arrests, not incarcerations. My son’s best friend is black. At the age of 18, he was arrested for marijuana possession. Never convicted, but ended up spending a week in the L.A. County jail, and then was sent home.
Does that count as an incarceration, or does that count simply as an arrest?
Dr. Brame: Well, that’s an arrest, followed by a period of detention.
David: So you can spend a week in the county jail and that’s just an arrest, not an incarceration?
Dr. Brame: That’s not what we normally think of as incarceration. So that experience you just described would be an arrest with a period of pre-trial detention.
David: If you’ve been arrested but never convicted, certainly that doesn’t show up on your record, right? When you’re looking for a job, running for office or applying to college, having been arrested but not convicted, that doesn’t show up on your record, right?
An Arrest Often Remains Part of Your Police Record
Dr. Brame: You have to take into consideration that the laws that govern the use of criminal history records vary tremendously from state to state. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is that an employer can ask you many questions on a job application. So if an employer wants to ask you about whether you’ve ever been arrested or not, unless the state has a law that governs the kinds of questions about criminal history that can be asked, they can ask you that question. You, as an applicant, decide whether to answer that truthfully or not.
Dr. Brame: Just having an arrest record with no conviction can affect opportunities to get a license in some states, it can affect your eligibility to get student loans, it can affect your relationships with friends and family. Yes, it can affect you if you’ve been arrested without being convicted, certainly.
David: Professor Brame, violent crime is down dramatically in America. What do you say to those who maintain this is all good, we introduce Americans to the criminal justice system at an early age, and it scares them straight?
Dr. Brame: The basic idea that you lay out is correct. Homicides today in the United States, the homicide rate today is as low as it’s been since the early 1960’s. That’s a fact.
Dr. Brame: What we’re not sure of is how much of that is due to criminal justice system policies, or, on the other hand, how much of it is due to other things that are not as much under the control of the criminal justice system, or other things that are under the control of the criminal justice system, but they are different than arrests.
For example, putting more police on the street or the decline of crack cocaine markets have both been proposed as potential explanations for the crime decline, and those don’t really have anything at all to do with how often people are arrested.
Dr. Brame: But it would be an unjustified leap from the evidence at this point to say that the violent crime declines that we’ve seen say in the last 20 years or so, that those are due to arresting people more often. I don’t think that’s consistent with the evidence we have right now.
Has Roe v. Wade Played Any Role In Violent Crime Dropping?
David: Is there any evidence to suggest that Roe v. Wade is responsible for the precipitous drop in violent crime?
Dr. Brame: I don’t think the research on that speaks with one voice, so I think it’s fair to say that research is controversial. And I don’t think we have a good consensus understanding of the effects of changes in abortion laws and abortion guidelines on violent crime.
David: If getting slapped by your father, an authority figure, sends you into therapy, what does being thrown to the ground and arrested by a police officer do to a 16-year-old white male?
Dr. Brame: To me, it would be traumatic. This is where the research needs to go is to try to understand this. We look at the effects of the types of schools that kids go to, we look at the effects of the types of food they eat, how much TV they watch, we look at the effects of all those sorts of experiences on life outcomes. Given how widespread arrest experiences are, we need to better understand what the total effects of the arrest experience is, both beneficial and harmful on people’s future behavior.
So that’s one of the issues we are hoping to shed light on with this research and future research.
David: Is this our nature? Have we always been arresting people?
Dr. Brame: I think we have a lot more police officers in schools today than we used to. We’re much more likely to arrest people for certain kinds of drug offenses, domestic violence, dating violence kinds of issues that maybe then weren’t as likely to result in arrests a generation ago. Unfortunately, no simple answer to that question.
Dr. Robert Brame is a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina.
Have you been arrested? Do you fear America is becoming a police state? Please join the conversation below.