John C Moritz , USA Today Network 11:25 a.m. CST December 15, 2016
The Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center says the data means Latinos are short-changed on rehabilitation services.
AUSTIN – Latinos in the criminal justice system — from the point of arrest, through their incarceration and during their time on parole or probation — are often categorized as white on official records, which shortchanges the nation's largest minority population when it comes to targeted reforms to reduce recidivism, a new study finds.
The report by the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center shows that many of the nation's most diverse states undercount Latinos in the criminal justice system, making it appear that the disparity between black and white offenders is more narrow than it is.
“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 advocacy groups Latino Justice and the Public Welfare Foundation, surveyed the 50 states and the District of Columbia about demographic information on people who have entered the criminal justice system. While many states, including Texas, Oregon, Oklahoma and Alaska, compile publicly accessible data on how many Latinos have entered the system, several others have little or no data on their websites, the study found.
The report, titled "The Alarming Lack of Data on Latinos in the Criminal Justice System," is scheduled for release Thursday when it will be posted on the Urban Institute website. The USA Today Network obtained the completed draft on Wednesday.
According to the report, only Alaska has accessible data on the number of Latinos arrested, in prison, on probation or parole and breaks down race and ethnic numbers for each offense category. Texas, Idaho, Oregon and Oklahoma have numbers for Latinos who have been arrested, incarcerated and placed parole or probation.
Thirteen states, including Florida, Maryland, Louisiana and New Mexico, do not have any accessible recently reported numbers for Latinos in their criminal justice systems, according to the report. Twenty-nine states keep Latino-specific numbers for between one and three of the categories.
Juan Cartagena, who heads Latino Justice, said the undercount means that the needs of specific ethnic groups are not been 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."
John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at John.Moritz@caller.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.
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