Young people in North Carolina and around the country are much more likely to find themselves on the wrong side of the law than older Americans, and arrests early in life often lead to less success in later years. These were the conclusions reached by researchers from the RAND Corporation after studying data gathered over a 26-year period. The study, which was published by the journal Crime and Delinquency, was based on information from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.

The data revealed that Americans between 26 and 35 are 3.6 times more likely to have been taken into custody by police than individuals older than 66. The lead author of the study put this down largely to more aggressive law enforcement and the criminalization of American youth. Rising arrest and incarceration rates were observed in all demographic groups with particularly sharp increases among white men and women.

The findings also suggest that youths who are arrested often encounter difficulties later in life. Individuals who have been arrested once earn about $6,000 per year less than those with clean criminal records according to the data, and being arrested twice more than doubles this income disparity. Education also seems to play a role. While 60 percent of men who fail to graduate high school are arrested at least once, the arrest rate drops to less than one in four among male college graduates.

Attorneys with criminal law experience could point out that being arrested and being convicted are two very different things. Arrests are based on probable cause, but conviction requires proof beyond reasonable doubt. This is why defense attorneys may advise criminal suspects to avail themselves of rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and make no admissions or other statements to police without first speaking to a lawyer.