The term millennial gets thrown around a whole lot, but it generally refers to a generation of people who were born between 1981 and 1996. Generation X was the generation before millennials, and includes those born between 1965 and 1980.
Now, a new study has found that millennials are more likely to be arrested than Gen Xers, despite having committed fewer crimes.
Researchers from John Hopkins University conducted the study which was published in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.
The study highlights racial disparities as well as generational biases and shows how law enforcement and the criminal justice system has changed from the 20th to the early 21st century.
Black millennials who reported committing no crimes were four times more likely to be arrested at the beginning of the 21st century than black Generation Xers, and were 31.5 percent more likely to be arrested compared to white millennials.
“The idea that there’s a direct link between committing a crime and having contact with the criminal justice system is essential to public policy, political rhetoric, and criminology, and the assumption is rarely questioned,” says Vesla Weaver, the first author of the study. “However, our study found that there is a loosening relationship between actually committing a crime and being arrested for the millennial generation, something that was not true for the previous generation, Gen X.”
The researchers reviewed and analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1997 and 1979.
More than 8,000 young adults aged 18 to 23 took part in the surveys, and part of the survey included self-reported criminal activity, arrests, and court dates.
If a person was between 18 and 23 in 1980, the researchers categorized them as Gen X, whereas if the survey respondent was between 18 and 23 in 2002, they were considered a millennial.
The reason the researchers chose to compare Gen Xers and millennials is that they represent two generations on either side of a dramatic shift in the criminal justice system and policing. At the start of the 21st century, police started focusing their attention on low-level crimes with more funds being allocated to the criminal justice system.
This shift has had a lasting impact on the millennial generation and resulted in a much higher number of arrests regardless of reported criminal activity.
The researchers discovered that only 10 percent of Gen Xers in the survey were arrested, but 52 percent reported committing a crime. For millennials, 25 percent reported being arrested, and only 15 percent of the survey respondents reported committing a crime.
In other words, millennials are more likely to be arrested regardless of committing a crime or not, and for people of color, this risk is even higher.
The study results are limited as the survey data is not representative of an entire generation but focuses on young adults.
The shift in police methods has impacted an entire generation and only strengthened racial inequality, according to the researchers. Being arrested and carrying a permanent criminal record can have long-term negative consequences.
“Our reform strategy should not only focus on decreasing punitive interventions but on realigning exposure to arrest with criminal offending,” said Weaver.
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