Pew: Latino incarceration rates increase, legal confidence wanes

The tenuous political relationship between African Americans and Latinos may have found a new rallying point — criminal justice reform.

Concerns by both groups about growing incarceration rates and flagging confidence in the legal system are highlighted in a new national study released Tuesday by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan think tank.

According to Hispanics and the Criminal Justice System: Low Confidence, High Exposure (PDF):

In recent decades, Hispanics’ exposure to all parts of the criminal justice system has risen even faster than their rising share of the U.S. adult population. In state, federal and local prisons and jails, the share of inmates who were Hispanic increased from 16% in 2000 to 20% in 2008 During this period, the share of Hispanics in the adult U.S. population rose from 11% to 13%.

More than one-in-ten Latinos claim that they or someone in their immediate family served time in jail or prison in the past five years, continuing a growing trend of racial disproportions in corrections. A 2008 Pew Center on the States study “1 in 100:Behind Bars in America” reported much higher rates of incarceration for blacks than whites.

pew-hispanic-chartThe report also found that native-born Latinos, particularly the young, were more affected by the prison system than immigrants of Latino descent.
While Pew estimates that four percent of all Latinos in the United States were under some kind of corrections control in 2007, more than four times that number (17 percent) in the study said that they or their family had been in prison system.

Native-born individuals were twice as likely as immigrants to say they or members of their household had been incarcerated. Two-in-ten Latino youths aged 18 to 29 reported higher levels of incarceration.

In Colorado, the most current information released by the Department of Corrections shows that Latinos make up 30 percent of the state inmate population, but 17 percent of the state population.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at

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