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UW study examines whether contact with police in middle school leads to arrests later


New research from the University of Washington shows that for Black youth, having an encounter with police in middle school means a higher likelihood of being arrested by age 20.

The study, which was published in the journal Social Problems, tracks what happened to several hundred Black and white eighth-graders in Seattle public schools. The researchers wanted to see whether contact with law enforcement at a young age is associated with police treating young people as “usual suspects” later in life.

Annie McGlynn-Wright, who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from UW and is now a postdoctoral fellow at Tulane University, is the lead author of the study.

“What we found was that the Black youth who had a contact by the time they were in the eighth grade, not necessarily arrested, just had a contact, had an 11 times greater odds of being arrested when they were young adults than their Black peers,” she said. “Notably and importantly, we did not see this effect at all with white youth.”

McGlynn-Wright said the findings suggest that there’s a systematic response in law enforcement that’s treating Black youth differently from white youth.

Additionally, the white participants in the study reported engaging in more illegal behavior, especially drug use, as young adults than the Black people who were surveyed, but were arrested less often.

“For white youth, these early criminal justice contacts don’t appear to have an effect on later criminal justice involvement,” she said.