This policy brief sifts through statistics and stereotypes to offer an engaging look at how America’s justice system is failing Latino youth. Readers will learn what various organizations are doing — nationally and locally — to address damaging racial and ethnic disparities and support our country’s largest minority group. The text closes with clear actions that policymakers must take to fix our broken justice system and keep all involved youth safe, out of adult prison and bound for a brighter tomorrow.
From police stops to sentencing, the justice system discriminates against Latino youth at every stage
Findings & Stats
Today, at 45.5 million strong, Latinos represent the largest minority group in the country and comprise 15% of the total population. Yet, despite these strong statistics, advocates say Latinos have largely been overlooked in studies, discussions and publications within the justice field.
This brief ends with clear recommendations for reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. These action items, which are intended for state and federal policymakers, fall into two major categories: 1) stop the most harmful and dangerous laws, policies, and practices affecting Latino youth; and 2) focus on building culturally competent services and programs that fulfill the needs of Latino youth and families.
Adults Only Please
Youth who are held in adult prisons and jails are in danger of experiencing physical and sexual assault. Yet, some 4,300 Latino youth are incarcerated in these facilities on any given day, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
A Kinder, Fairer System
A new and improved justice system that better serves the needs of Latino children and families would: 1) enable youth to remain in their supportive home environment; 2) favor community-based organizations over institutions; 3) promote culturally competent services and staff; and 4) give youth a role in designing their own service plans.
Serving Latinos Locally
Readers will learn about several community organizations that are working to make a difference in the lives of young Latinos. One example? Homeboy Industries. The Los Angeles-based nonprofit operates several small businesses—including Homegirl Café and Homeboy Press—and staffs these ventures with former gang members and ex-prisoners. Its winning combination of support services and hands-on job training gives at-risk youth a vital fresh start.
Refreshing the Fine Print
Despite an original intent to keep all youth out of adult jails, the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act fails to protect adolescents who are prosecuted in the adult criminal system. To close this loophole, Congress could amend the law accordingly, say experts. States and counties could also move to formally prohibit the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons.
Statements & Quotations
If we were to start over and redesign the [juvenile justice] system with our own children in mind, it would look very different.
For so long we have known what works (and what doesn’t work) in combating juvenile delinquency, but this country has lacked the political will, leadership and courage to see these reforms through.
We need a new approach that enables our Latino children to dream, and dream big, while providing them with the tools they need to accomplish those dreams.
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