Labels for Some: Long-term Consequences of Police Encounters and Arrests for African American and White Youth
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Policing programs, including community policing, and school policies that increase opportunities for interactions between law enforcement officers and youth have become increasingly common over the past two decades. However, scholars remain uncertain about the long-term impacts of police-youth encounters. Since the 1950's, labeling theorists have warned that such encounters may increase youths' deviant behavior by shaping identities and behavior, making contacted youth believe that they are worthy of police intervention. According to recent empirical work, such interactions may create a cycle in which police contacts with youth negatively impact others' perceptions of the youth, therefore decreasing opportunities for engagement in positive or pro-social activities and increasing the chance that youth will engage with delinquent peers. The current paper attempts to fill a gap in the literature by examining whether police encounters have different long-term impacts on African American and white youths' behavior and justice system involvement. The paper uses longitudinal data from 331 African American and white youth enrolled in the Seattle Public School District as 8th graders in 2001 and 2002. Results suggest that police encounters have no identifiable long-term impact on white youths' behavior or subsequent criminal justice involvement. However, the impacts of early police encounters for African American youth are striking. Early encounters increase the odds of illegal behaviors nearly 6 years later for African American youth. In addition, African American youth who experience contact by the 8th grade have a nearly 13 times greater odds of experiencing arrest when they are 20 years old than their non-contacted African American peers, even while holding constant self-reported criminal behavior. The current study highlights the need for additional research on racial differences in impacts of policing practices and also cautions that programs that increase exposure to police may have negative impacts for youth of color.
- Sociology