AUSTIN, TX (KAUZ) - A report by the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center show's that many of the country's most diverse states undercount Latinos in the criminal justice system, giving the image that the disparity between black and white offenders is narrower than it actually is.
The study reports that many times, Latinos are categorized as whites on official records from point of arrest, through incarceration, and onto parole and probation. This shortchanges the nation's largest minority population when it comes to targeted reforms for reducing recidivism.
"Leaving Latinos out when documenting the consequences of the American criminal justice system means our data tells an incomplete story," said Ryan King of the Urban Institute. "As a result of that missing, inaccurate, or insufficient data, their voices are absent from the conversation when policy reforms are developed."
The study, done in cooperation with the groups Latino Justice and the Public Welfare Foundation, surveyed all 50 states and the District of Columbia about the demographic information of people who have entered the criminal justice system. Although many of the states, including Texas, Idaho, Oregon, and Oklahoma compile publicly accessible data on how many Latinos have entered the system, the study found that several states offer little to no information regarding this on their websites.
Titled "The Alarming Lack of Data on Latinos in the Criminal Justice System," the report will be released Thursday when it will be posted on the Urban Institute's website. The USA Today Networked obtained the complete draft of the report on Wednesday.
According to the report, only Alaska has accessible data on the number of Latinos arrested, in prison, or on probation, and reports on each race and ethnic numbers for each offense category. Thirteen states do not have any accessible numbers for Latinos in their justice systems. Twenty-nine states keep Latino-specific numbers for only between one and three categories.
Juan Cartagena, the leader of Latino Justice, said the undercount means that the needs of specific ethnic groups are not being adequately addressed.
"This affects how we look at programs to help with re-entry (from prison to the community). And that impacts recidivism," Cartagena said. "And what about how we look at sentencing disparities — who gets prison and who gets probation? We need to get a good handle on this."